The 7 Best Things About Studying in Great Britain
The universities of Great Britain, and the towns and cities in which they’re based, have plenty to recommend them. That’s why students from countries all across the world, from Azerbaijan to Zambia, flock here every year. At Oxford Royale Academy, we aim to give students a taster of that great experience in our courses, located on the campuses of the British universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, and St Andrews. It’s a taster that includes studying, excursions, activities and parties. Best of all, if your time with Oxford Royale Academy makes you determined to study at a British university in future, your teachers will be able to advise you on your academic direction and university applications to give you the best chance of getting into the university of your dreams.
But what might make your future at a British university so special? Here’s some of what the best of British universities have to offer.
1. A great education
The most obvious reason to choose British universities is quite simply because they are among the very best in the world. In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, British universities dominate the top slots, with the universities of Oxford and Cambridge coming in as best and second-best in the world respectively, followed by Imperial College London in eighth place. While league tables need to be interpreted with care, this does demonstrate just how outstanding the best British universities are.
There are several factors that makes the quality of education at British universities so notable. Top of the list is teaching style, particularly at Oxford and Cambridge. While there are large lectures as well, the focus of teaching is on tutorials (Oxford) and supervisions (Cambridge) – the two terms refer to the same idea. A tutorial/supervision is an intensive means of teaching, with one tutor to just one or two students. The students have to defend their ideas under a grilling from one of the leading minds in their field.
While that may sound terrifying, it’s also the key means by which Oxford and Cambridge students learn to promote their ideas confidently, clearly and knowledgeably, a vital skill not only for their mastery of their own subject, but also for the rest of their lives. And while one-to-one teaching is mostly restricted to Oxbridge, other leading universities in the UK prioritise small group teaching, so that every student has the opportunity to offer up, discuss, debate and refine their ideas.
Another factor that is perhaps not discussed as much as teaching style in the reasons for the success of British universities is the approach taken to selecting students. While some university systems base their choices solely on exam results, and others – such as, famously, the USA – give extra weight to impressive performance in extracurricular activities such as sport and music, British universities focus on academic performance but go beyond results.
A student who wants to get into a top British university must demonstrate not only ability in their subject but enthusiasm for it, for instance by engaging in relevant supercurricular activities, or by showing their passion in their Personal Statement. The end result is that top British universities are filled with people who are not only very good at their chosen subjects, but are genuinely enthusiastic about them too. And since the quality of your university education can depend as much on the contribution of your peers as on the effort of your tutors, this approach to choosing students can make a big difference.
2. Great extracurriculars
Just because British universities don’t choose students based on their extracurriculars – at least, not to the same extent as American universities – doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lively extracurricular scene across top British universities. In fact, some universities are nearly as well known for their extracurriculars as for their teaching.
In Cambridge, for instance, some of its most famous graduates made a name for themselves less through their studies than for their extracurricular engagement with the Footlights comedy group. The role-call of past Footlights alumni is an illustrious one, including Douglas Adams, Alexander Armstrong, Richard Ayoade, Stephen Fry, Mel Giedroyc, Hugh Laurie, Sue Perkins, Emma Thompson, and nearly all the members of Monty Python.
Theatre and comedy is just one example of how British universities excel at extracurriculars. It’s a point of pride for many universities that they have a society for almost everything, from Ultimate Frisbee to knitting to debating to just about anything else you might come up with. Some student societies are all about becoming the best at whatever the activity is; others are just about having fun. You might well find that your university will have multiple societies for the same thing, to cover these different approaches, such as one rowing club for people who are passionate about rowing, and another rowing club for people who just like splashing about in the water a bit. And if you do manage to think of something that your university doesn’t yet offer, you can often talk to the student union and get a small subsidy to establish it yourself.
3. Great music
Britain is a collection of islands that are home to only around 65 million people – that’s less than one percent of the population of the world – but, as we’ve seen above, it makes a significantly outsized impact on higher education. Another area in which Britain punches hugely above its weight is in music, and that can be a key draw for students deciding on which country to study in. From the Beatles onwards, Britain has long been home to some of the best pop music in the world, and that hasn’t changed in recent years, with the chart-topping successes of British musicians such as Ed Sheeran and Adele.
Britain being a small country with a reasonably good public transport system (regardless of what grumpy locals might say), it’s easy to get to concerts in big cities like London, Manchester or Birmingham, regardless of which university you choose; London is under an hour from Oxford or Cambridge on the fastest trains, for instance. If you want to spend your student years going to concerts by some of the best musicians in the world, then British universities are a good choice.
It’s not just about pop music either. The UK is a great destination for music of almost any genre. For instance, if you stay in or near London during the summer, you can get discount tickets to the classical Proms concerts, or last minute tickets for West End musicals if that’s more your cup of tea.
4. Great food
Britain used to have a terrible reputation for food, and in some countries, it still does. It’s fair to say that this reputation was once deserved; when Britain was a country where Parmesan came in a tin, lunch was a soggy sandwich with salad cream, and it was a challenge to find any fruit more adventurous than an orange. Wartime rationing took its toll on British cuisine and it took a long time for the country’s tastes to recover.
But the Britain of the 70s, 80s and even 90s is not the Britain of today. While some British specialities are an acquired taste (liver and onions, anyone?), British food has undergone a quiet revolution in recent years. One factor is travel; Brits are increasingly travelling abroad and come home expecting more of their local cafes and restaurants. Another is immigration, leading to a fabulous diversity of cuisines in British cities, as well as exciting fusion foods. Traditional favourites are also getting an updated, modern twist.
That means that British student food no longer compares badly to its equivalents around the world. If you’re at a university like Oxford, Cambridge or St Andrews, you can enjoy fine dining at a fraction of the cost of the equivalent elsewhere – and it’s not unknown for colleges to poach their chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants. And if you’re somewhere like London, you have a choice of some of the best food in the world, from all around the work, straight on your doorstep.
5. Great architecture
Another key draw for students from overseas – particularly from countries where older buildings are a rarity – is the beautiful architecture of British universities, especially ancient universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews. Oxford famously boasts an example of a building from every major architectural period in British history since 1000 AD. If you’re fascinated by architecture, or even want to become an architect yourself, it has obvious appeal to only need to walk out of your front door to see how architectural history unfolded.
But inspiring architecture is appealing even if you have no interest in studying it. For one thing, there’s the simple pleasure of studying somewhere that looks like the set for Harry Potter. Indeed, in some British universities, it might actually have been the set for Harry Potter – much of Hogwarts was filmed around Oxford and Durham, as well as the obvious scenes set and filmed in London.
There’s also the fact that inspiring architecture is inspiring; studying in a library that’s breathtakingly beautiful can have a real impact on your motivation to work. Being in stunning surroundings has a way of uplifting you, and making you want to live up to the promise of the location in which you’re working. So while it might feel shallow to choose a university based in part on the attractiveness of its buildings, it can have an effect on your mood and motivation.
6. Great history
British universities are steeped in centuries of history. The foundation of the University of Oxford was so long ago that the exact date has been lost to time, though there is evidence of university-style teaching in Oxford that dates back to 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world. When you attend a top British university, you’re walking in the footsteps of some of the most notable and world-changing men and women in history. That includes the many British Prime Ministers who studied at Oxford (including Theresa May, David Cameron and Tony Blair), Oliver Cromwell, Charles Darwin and David Attenborough at Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton at St Andrews, and HG Wells and Alexander Fleming at Imperial College, London.
But it’s not just about being inspired by the famous alumni who attended these universities before you. It’s also about the weight of history that happened in each of these places. You’ll see it in blue plaques on the walls – where decisions were made that changed the course of history. If you have an interest in history, it’s not only inspiring but fascinating to learn about all the different things that took place in the rooms where you eat, sleep and study.
7. Great company
One of the most important things about going to university is all the people who you’ll meet. These are people who you’ll be spending a lot of time with; you’ll study with them and collaborate with them on work. You’ll become friends with them, maybe share a flat with them. You could make lifelong friends and you might even meet your future spouse, as William and Kate did at St Andrews.
Given all that, who you study with can be nearly is important as what you study or where you study it. Remember how thousands of people from all across the world flock to British universities every year? One of the best things about British universities is their remarkable diversity, drawing students from every continent in the world and from nearly every country. If you want to go to university to be exposed to new perspectives and ideas then the tremendous diversity of British universities can make all the difference, helping you to see the world through the eyes of your fellow students. After all, gaining new perspectives and learning to see things differently is one of the main things that university study is for.