British educational system
On this page you will find some information about the British educational system. Some of its characteristics may be familiar to you; others may (literally) seem foreign.
Please note: In May 2001 I moved from the University of Bradford, UK, to the University of Melbourne, Australia, and this page will no longer be updated. However, you may still find the information useful if you plan to study in the United Kingdom. (With the exception of the grading system, most remarks on this page apply to the Australian educational system as well.)
One of the most important issues for students! British universities usually grade according to a scale from 0%-100%. As an MA/MBA student you will need at least 50% to pass individual modules. If you have an average of 70% or more and fulfill some additional requirements, you will receive a degree with distinction. This already indicates that any mark above 70% is very good to excellent, while grades between 60% and 70% are very good. It is uncommon for students to get marks above 80%.
In the British system, tutors have a bias in their marking towards giving credit for the development of arguments, rather than for giving a list of concise points that reproduce what was taught in the course. It is less important for an answer to cover every possible aspect and to be perfectly accurate than for the answer to show that you have understood what you are learning, are able to apply it and develop your own line of thinking. Of course, if you can manage both you are in line for a really high mark! Answers should not contain incorrect statements, but we do not attach much value to a perfect reproduction of a definition or a simple list of advantages and disadvantages.
For most modules, students should expect to do coursework (a project, a case study, a specific assignment) in addition to a written exam. This facilitates the learning process, since students have to "work with the theories" and apply them in practice. It also means hard work and necessitates a good ability to plan your time effectively. In the British system, it is virtually impossible to postpone your work and start a crash programme in the final weeks before the exams.
In many modules the coursework is (partly) done in groups of students. This develops your ability to work in teams and, since the British student population is very international, it also develops your ability to work in multi-cultural teams. Working in groups can be fun, but it can also be very frustrating if you do not make good arrangements. This is an integral part of your learning process, so try to learn from it and don't be afraid to tell your group members if you are not satisfied.
If you would rather die than stand in front of an audience doing a presentation, you are unlucky, because in many modules you will have to do presentations. Don't be afraid, though, because we know how difficult it can be if you present for the first time. Again, do try to learn and practice as much as possible. It is better to make some mistakes in front of your fellow students and learn how to improve than to do the same in front of a board of directors.
Interaction with the course tutors might be more informal than you are used to in your own country (see also informality under British culture). In addition you should realise that tutors are facilitators, not oracles. Although they know a lot about the field they are teaching, they should not be seen as people who have the right answer to every question. In management there are often no right answers anyway. Tutors will also expect you, the students, to participate actively in the lectures and tutorials. This means asking questions if you don't understand things and maybe giving examples of your own country. If you do not agree with the tutor, don't be afraid to say so as long as you do so in a tactful manner.
Copyright © 2017 Anne-Wil Harzing. All rights reserved. Page last modified on Sat 20 May 2017 18:50
Anne-Wil Harzing is Professor of International Management at Middlesex University, London. In addition to her academic duties, she also maintains the Journal Quality List and is the driving force behind the popular Publish or Perish software program.