Further education colleges: step into a UK University

Colleges in the UK are often associated with vocational education and skills training, promoting a general perception of further education that is quite limited. In reality, they provide a lot more, and can be an ideal stepping stone for international students looking to get a quality university degree in the UK.

Of course, further education colleges do offer vocational courses and apprenticeships in many sectors that equip students with a combination of knowledge and practical skills highly valued by employers. However, more than 100 publicly-funded colleges in the UK offer courses to students from all over the world ranging from A-Levels to higher education, successfully sending graduates to UK universities every year. Academic courses at college develop students’ analytical skills, critical thinking and knowledge in a more adult environment than school, preparing them for more independent study.


Pic: Grantham College campus

International students interested in pursuing higher education at a UK university often choose to do a course at college first before applying for an undergraduate programme. These college courses, specifically tailored at students whose native tongue isn’t English, help them learn or improve their language skills through study, friends and everyday life. They are a highly regarded step before university education in the UK, which can be a daunting prospect for international students leaving home for the first time.

Colleges in the UK welcome thousands of international students each year and are well equipped both in terms of facilities, accommodation provision and support services to deal with all new students’ needs. Many choose to live in a homestay with a family, which enables them to get used to a new culture and learn about the UK in a family environment. At college they find a multicultural society and a mix of people from different backgrounds and cultures.


Pic: Students at Harrow College

International students who study at college before applying at a UK university get a useful introduction to what life will be like when they advance to university level. A range of courses are available depending on students’ prior academic qualifications and level of English. Most are taken over two years:

  • A-Level and AS-Levels: These are available in a range of subjects and are the most popular route into higher education in the UK. Most students take three or four subjects,
  •  International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme: This programme is an alternative to A-Levels and provides qualifications in six or seven subjects,
  • Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Diploma (HND): Studied over one or two years, these are the stepping stones to an undergraduate degree. International students can enrol at College and, after two years, top-up with one additional year to obtain a degree from a UK university.

Studying in the UK is a unique cultural and educational adventure and further education colleges play a key role in welcoming international students and providing them with the knowledge they need to enter a UK university. UK further education providers are regularly inspected by government-appointed organisations to ensure high standards of education, teaching and welfare support.

Below are some further education colleges that welcome international students in the UK:


York College is a UK leader in further education, offering some of the most competitive foundation programs for university-bound international students. It was recently graded outstanding by the UK Government and its A-Level results are now the best in the UK for the General FE sector. It is located in the historic city of York, which is the ancient capital of Northern England, complete with medieval landmarks, breezy cafés and winding streets. It is a great stepping stone for international students wishing to enroll at a UK university. Read the full profile here… 


Harrow College is located only 10 miles outside of Central London, making it a perfect choice for international students. It offers a friendly and exciting study environment in the Middlesex suburb of Harrow with easy access to the capital and everything London has to offer. The College offers dedicated English as a Foreign Language courses for international students, as well as programmes to prepare international students for higher education in the UK. Teachers at Harrow are specialists in their chosen fields and are highly qualified and experienced. Read the full profile here…


Grantham College was established in 1947 and has been recruiting international students for more than 35 years, offering courses that have acquired an excellent reputation and providing all students with the support to succeed. Located in the historic town of Grantham, just one hour away from London, the College provides an ideal study environment for students from all over the world. Grantham College was rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted and guarantees all students high success rates and was commended for its productive collaborations with employers and schools. Read the full profile here…


Pic: The Shambles in York


The City of Westminster College (CWC) is a leading Further and Higher education college based in central London that welcomes a diverse multicultural student community and offers excellent teaching and learning. The college has a long experience welcoming students from all over the world and focuses on developing students’ employability skills to make sure they achieve their career objectives. The College offers Higher National Diplomas over two years in the areas of Travel and Tourism, Computing and Systems Development, Applied Medical Science, Sport, Business, Photography, and Music Production.


Henley College is a friendly institution in the West Midlands that welcomes 1,600 full-time students and many international students preparing to enter a UK university. The College offers International Foundation Programmes (IFP) in partnerships with universities and has more than 20 years of experience. Their pathway programmes ensure graduates can pursue their education at higher level once they finish at College, and provide an effective and economical route into a UK University. International students can prepare for courses in the areas of Business Administration, Business Information Systems, Law, Media, and Engineering.


New College Nottingham has been preparing international students to enter university courses and the workplace in a cosmopolitan study environment for more than 30 years. A variety of courses are available across four campuses, ranging from A-Levels and Pre-degrees to Foundation Degrees. New College Nottingham has a high rate of employability for its graduate and is an integral part of the community with centres located throughout the city. Nottingham is a popular destination for UK and international students and it offers many opportunities and a great standard of education.