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Undergraduate degrees in the UK are becoming quite attractive to Chinese students and the numbers attending UK universities is increasing. Currently there are 38000 Chinese undergraduates in UK Universities despite the high cost of tuition fees and living expenses in the UK. Even for English students the cost of a typical 3 years Bachelor degree is daunting to say the least. In the last couple of years tuition fees increased three fold and now run at around £9,000 per annum. Against this Scottish students can attend Universities in Scotland with free tuition fees.

English students are leaving University heavily debt ridden because the majority have to take Government loans to fund the tuition fees. So we recognise that taking an undergraduate degree in the UK for Chinese nationals is proportionately even more burdensome. That said, many Chinese students decide to take this path in anticipation of being better placed both in terms of their education and in terms of their future career strategy. There are some matters which we need to point out but these matters are not insurmountable hurdles so do not be overly concerned.

First, the Gao Kao which you have or will have taken by the end of your High School (Senior Middle School) in China is not recognised by the UK as a sufficient level of education to commence a Bachelor's degree course. Again please understand that this is not simply a matter of your English standard but all relevant subjects. By 2017 the Gao Kao will include Oral English examination, so the English Gao Kao standard is rising. Nevertheless, the requirement for University entrance is not the Gao Kao but GCE (General Certificate of Education) Advanced Level, commonly known as 'A' Level which is what UK students take. 'A' Levels are generally worked towards over two years and split into two parts, with one part studied in each year. The first part is known as the Advanced Subsidiary Level, or 'AS' Level. The second part is known as the 'A2' Level. The 'AS' Level combined with the 'A2' Level forms the complete 'A' Level qualification.

Let me take a typical example. Let us look at the entrance requirements for The University of Nottingham, a highly regarded but typical university as regards entrance requirements. Normally a student will be expected to have studied three subject to the higher "A" level and four subjects to "AS" level. But even students with just 3 "A" levels may gain entry. There are more than 10 other qualifications besides "A" levels which are acceptable to the University but Gao Kao is not one.

It is not practical to give all the different entry requirements for each University and course and whether for direct undergraduate entry or for the Foundation course (which we cover below) but suffice to say that each university is different and different courses will have different requirements. For Foundation courses generally the Gao Kao will be considered and an overall average of at least 70% is required. If you want to take the Foundation course after year 11 (2nd year of Senior Middle School) then your Zhong Kao results may be considered. For Chinese students applying for any degree or Foundation course they will additionally need to demonstrate good level of English and generally the IELTS exam results are accepted and we recommend that exam over others. (please see the section "English Language Requirements" below). The earlier you plan your future education the better choices you have in your decision making process.

So how can a Chinese student achieve the entry requirements?

Well, by a number of different methods.

  1. A Chinese student could leave their current High School in year 2 or 3, and attend a different school in China or England that specialises in one of the examinations which are acceptable to UK universities, such as "A" levels or the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma.

  2. A student, who has already completed one or two years of a Chinese undergraduate course, is eligible for application to the UK. Of course that means jumping ship from a Chinese University before completing the degree and starting a UK degree from the beginning but this may be acceptable.

  3. Lastly, the Chinese student can take a Foundation course specific to each University. Normally Chinese Senior High School leavers are required to take a one year Foundation programme. Requirements are typically 80%-85% in Senior High School Leaver Exams, plus 80%-85% in specific subjects e.g. Maths and Physics for the Engineering Foundation Programmes. Foundation courses provide the best possible grounding for entry into a range of undergraduate degree courses. Provided you successfully complete the Foundation year and pass relevant modules at the required standard, you will be able to progress onto the 1st year of your chosen degree.

    A Foundation course at Nottingham is particularly exciting because you study on campus and are a full time member of the University and you have full access to all the opportunities, support and facilities on offer. You can fully enjoy UK university life!

    The University of Nottingham offers four Foundation courses but these will be different at other universities. Nevertheless, I think this example is constructive.

    1. Engineering and Physical sciences Foundation Certificate
    2. Science Foundation Certificate
    3. Foundation Certificate in Business
    4. Foundation Certificate in Arts and Social Science

    Again I stress that your teaching will be delivered by academic staff from within the Faculties of Engineering and Science. This will ensure that the Foundation course is fully integrated into your degree and the topics you cover during the Foundation stage are perfectly matched to subsequent stages of your course. For this reason the success rates for students progressing from the Foundation courses to Bachelor's degrees are very high.

    Besides that you are being taught by University staff and getting to know how the "supervisor"/"student" relationship works in the UK which assuredly is different than in China.

    Different Universities have different entry requirements and some do not directly provide Foundation courses. For example Imperial College London offers no Foundation courses but for some specific degrees like Electrical and Electronic Engineering they will accept students who have attended one of two high quality UK Foundation courses run by UCL and Warwick University.

    Students have asked us where they should take their Foundation course. Well our advice is to take the course as directed by your 1st choice for University. In other words if you are applying to Nottingham University then take their Foundation course. If you are applying to Warwick University then take one of their Foundation courses; either the UCL Undergraduate Preparatory Certificate for the Humanities (UPCH) or the UCL Undergraduate Preparatory Certificate for Science and Engineering (UPCSE) as specified by your intended undergraduate course. Logically if you take the Foundation course where the University proposes you are nearly assured of an undergraduate place if you pass the Foundation exams. Indeed many Universities will provide a guarantee conditional offer or guaranteed Interview for undergraduate degree. If you happen to choose Warwick University to take one of their preparatory certificates and then you apply to Imperial College you would be considered. However, Foundation course results from one University clearly may not be acceptable to another. A Foundation course may be particularly biased towards science (as in the King's College International Science Foundation Programme ISFP) and therefore if you apply to another University course where essay writing is more, then that Foundation course may be unsuitable. So we urge students contemplating this method to be focused on their intended Course and University. Since Universities offer a large range of courses, it is likely that you can change your undergraduate course if you decide during your Foundation year to switch focus slightly. But switching to a different University will have to be considered on a case by case basis.

    There are exceptions and the most notable is NCUK. NCUK was formed by 11 leading Universities. If you take an NCUK Foundation you are guaranteed a place in one of the 11 universities. The eleven Universities are Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds, Leeds Beckett, Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan, Salford, Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam. So if you have already decided that your 1st choice for University is Leeds and 2nd choice Manchester and 3rd Choice Bradford, then taking an NCUK Foundation course will give you the flexibility to include all three Universities on your UCAS application. Of course whether you are accepted by your 1st choice will depend on your performance in the exams. The really good news is that you can take the Foundation course in England or China. If you decide China, then you can study at the Sino-British College, USST in Shanghai which was a partnership between the NCUK and The University of Shanghai for Science and Technology or you can study at one of 15 centers around China, such as Beijing, Changsha, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Qingdao, Xi'an. Taking the Foundation in China is less expensive than in the UK. An NCUK Foundation does not necessarily mean that you can only apply to one of the 11 Universities as there are also 6 partner universities including University of Birmingham, Bristol, Kent, Kingston University, Aston University and Queen Mary University of London. Placement is only guaranteed with one of the 11 NCUK Universities.

    With NCUK there is one other option for students who are in or will shortly be joining their 1st year of Senior Middle School. NCUK will accept students onto their Foundation Course after completing year 2(year 11) Hui Kao. That means students would apply for Foundation Course during their 1st yr with entry at the end of year 2. If accepted NCUK makes a conditional offer based on the student obtaining an average of 70%. Some subjects you cannot be tested by Hui Kao in year 2, Chinese, mathematics and foreign language. It is our understanding that NCUK are aware of this and still could offer a Foundation place. A student who takes this path will therefore spend 11 years in the Chinese education system and year 12 on a Foundation course leading straight to an undergraduate degree course. In this case there is no extra year involved.

    If the choice of Foundation course is still a concern you would need to ask us to make enquiries on your behalf and establish which other universities and courses are of interest and would find your chosen Foundation course acceptable for undergraduate entrance. We will provide the information but cannot simply list all the possibilities here.

    If you want the greatest degree of flexibility then we suggest that you seriously consider the 1st method i.e. taking "A" levels in China or commencing your High school education in the UK. Then you are truly competing on the same terms as UK students and are not limited in your University choice and of course Foundation year does not then apply. The 2nd method i.e. starting undergraduate in China and then switching to the UK, is not a method we would suggest you consider, although we like to give you all the options. We suggest that method is simply used when you are dissatisfied with your University or course or financial circumstances have changed such that you are now able to consider UK education which you could not before. If you cannot take 'A' levels for whatever reason, then the 3rd method which involves taking a 9-12 months Foundation course in the UK or China is the best option.

If you have to reject all of the above opportunities, then there is still at least one more which may be acceptable.

In 2004, Nottingham was the first Sino-foreign university to establish a campus in China. The University of Nottingham Ningbo, China (UNNC) offers the same high standard of teaching as the UK campuses and has internationalisation at its heart: of over 6,000 students, there are around 540 international students from 60 countries. With the world’s fastest-growing economy, China has become one of the most important countries in the world.

So the University of Nottingham has a word class campus in China. Truly amazing! All study programmes taught at Ningbo are conducted in English and you will graduate with a University of Nottingham degree. As a student based in Ningbo, you will have opportunities to study in the UK and at other top universities.

So instead of applying to a UK university you are applying to a Chinese campus of a UK University and during the four years you could spend one or two years in England at the UK campus. The one obvious advantage is that The University of Nottingham in China accepts your Gao Kao providing you have the highest grades (First Division)and currently a minimum score of 115 for English test as part of the National University Entrance Examination.


There is no UK funding available for Foundation courses. So this is something you need to consider carefully. However, once through the Foundation Year, undergraduate scholarships are available.

As to undergraduate fees please look at our Universities page where we discuss University Fees. Suffice here to again illustrate fees by reference to University of Nottingham. For the year 2014-2015 the typical fees for Undergraduate courses range from £13,470 to £17,340. The exception is a particular Veterinary Medicine course where the fee is £25,690. These rates are per annum.

English Language requirements

If your English is below par, then you also need to attend an academic English and study skills programme which will prepare you to study your degree in English. We always recommend taking the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The grade you will require will vary by University and be dependent on the type of Foundation course or direct undergraduate entry. As an illustration only we can say that the University of Nottingham requires an IELTS of 5.5 with no less than 5 in any element i.e. in Listening, Reading, Writing and Oral. But if you were wishing to read Medicine then you need IELTS 7.5 with no less than 7 in any element. The NCUK Foundation entry requires only an overall result of 5.0.

In short the higher your IELTS score the more options you have. So we encourage you to aim for the highest score. IELTS is not essential as other English language equivalencies are acceptable e.g. TOEFL, GCSE, Hong Kong A Level use of English. So if you already have some English test then check with us on whether it meets a specific course requirement.

When and how

If you need to undertake a Foundation Course then the application process begins Oct/Nov of the preceding year. So if you are accepted it is conditional upon your Ga Kao results.

If you are taking "A" levels, or are already enrolled on a Foundation course, then you need to be sure that you apply in plenty of time. All applications for undergraduate direct entry are made through 'Universities and Colleges Admissions Service' commonly known as UCAS) and not with the University. Students choose up to five university courses and then apply by completing the form at www.ucas.com/apply. 110,000 students apply from outside the UK through UCAS each year.

Applications can begin about a year in advance. There are four key dates and the following applies for 2015 entrance.

  1. 1st September 2014 - applications begin
  2. 15th October 2014 - applications date to Oxford, Cambridge and courses in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine.
  3. 15th January 2015 - application date for majority of courses.
  4. 24th March 2015 - application date for some art and design courses

We can assist in the application process from UCAS, but you should begin to explore the UCAS website early on.

If the application is successful the student will receive an offer from the University. There are two types of offer. An "Unconditional" offer means that the student has been offered a place on the course. A "Conditional" offer means there are conditions to be fulfilled, such as examination results and the level of English skills.

You will also need to produce a 'Personal Statement' and this is a very important part of the application process. Essentially the Personal Statement has to convince the University as to why they should accept you over another student. We can give advice on the Personal Statement and it should be produced in both languages. It is important that your personal statement is unique and is not based on a standard or taken from other Personal Statements. Plagiarism is not tolerated. One thing to remember is that the Personal Statement is seen by all five universities that you apply for, so it has to be non specific and do not mention any particular university or course. The Personal Statement can be drafted ahead of time, so do not leave it to the end. UK Universities are interested mostly in your academic ability. Applications to the USA Universities have different expectations.


We hope that we have demonstrated by the above that we have a fuller understanding of the opportunities for undergraduates than most of our competitors and that exploring opportunities with us will give you several possible avenues that you may not otherwise have explored. Our services include helping you to identify the right course and university and to make the application through UCAS. In addition we help to identify sources of funding and again will assist in the completion of forms for scholarships and bursaries.

UK University Application Services.... Helping Chinese students gain placement


Whatever point you are in your education, whether still in Senior High School or already a Bachelor or Masters Degree graduate, our impartial professional consultancy will enable you to make that right choice. An exploratory discussion about our services can be mutually arranged in English or Chinese and obviously is without cost. Please contact us as shown below or see our Contact us  page for enquiry and contact forms.

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