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Life Planning Information Website - Education Bureau

The Education System

Children in the UK normally start school at the age of 5, sit for the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) Examination or Scottish Standard Grade at 16 and The General Certificate of Education (GCE) A-level Examination or Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher level at 18. Many continue to pursue higher education provided at universities and colleges.


(a) Independent Schools

These schools provide education for students aged between 5 and 18. There is a strict age limit and students normally sit for GCSE, Scottish Standard Grade or Intermediate 1 and 2 at 16 and GCE A-level or Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher level at 18. Some schools offer International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme as an alternative to GCE A-level. Most independent schools have boarding facilities that are available for students over the age of 8.


(b) Independent Colleges

These are private colleges which accept students aged 16 or above. Teaching is carried out individually or in small groups. Boarding facilities are sometimes available.


(c) Further Education (FE) Colleges

These colleges offer a full range of academic, vocational and professional courses for students aged 16 or above. Qualifications include: GCSEs, GCE A-levels, Scottish Standard Grades or Intermediate 1 and 2, Scottish Higher / Advanced Higher level, Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) / Oxford, Cambridge and RSA (OCR) certificates / diplomas, foundation degrees, professional courses and access / foundation courses. Boarding facilities are available at some colleges.


(d) Higher Education (HE) Institutions

Undergraduate, postgraduate, foundation courses, foundation degree as well as Higher National Diploma courses are offered in these institutions.


(e) Universities

Both undergraduate and postgraduate courses are offered at universities.


Courses Available

For ease of reference, general information about the courses available is summarised below:

Level of Studies and Duration

General Entry Requirement

Type of Institution

Tuition Fees (in £)

GCSE*, Scottish Standard Grade or Intermediate 1 & 2 (2 years)

Entrance tests, school reports, references and interviews

Independent schools and colleges

FE colleges

Private or state sixth form college



GCE* A-level, Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher, IB Diploma (2 years)

Entrance tests, school reports, references and interviews

International foundation programme

HKDSE 3 subjects at Level 2,2,2 - 4,3,3

and IELTS 5.0

FE colleges

HE institutions


International foundation and diploma programmes

£4,200-£26, 000



International diploma

HKDSE 3 subjects at Level 3,3,3 - 4,4,4

and IELTS 5.5

Foundation degree, HND (Higher National Diploma) (2 years)

HKDSE 3 subjects at Level 3,3,3 or above

and IELTS 5.5

First degree courses (Clinical: 5-6 years / Engineering: 4 years / Others: 3-4 years)

HKDSE 3 subjects at Level 4,3,3 to 5**,5,5

and English at Level 4 or IELTS 6.0

HE institutions


Undergraduate courses


Postgraduate Course

(MA / MSc / MPhil: 1-2 years
PhD: 3 years+)

A bachelor degree in relevant subject



*GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education)

*GCE (General Certificate of Education)

(Note: Medical degrees may cost more, please check the cost of course fees with the University or college you are applying to. Most often, this information will be listed on their website.)



Studying in the UK is good value for money and exchange rate fluctuations have made the UK even better value for many international students. UK master’s degrees can also be completed in 1 year, meaning lower living costs and faster entry into employment.

Use the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) international student budget calculator to help you plan your budget:

Fees for UK courses vary, depending on:

  • where in the UK you are studying (there are different rules for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales);
  • your study level;
  • the subject you study.

Note that fees for international students are decided at an institutional level, so you will need to check with the university or college you wish to attend.

For students holding a European passport, please refer to Brexit - fees and Student Support on the UK Council for International Student Affairs website.

Scholarships and Financial Support

There are hundreds of scholarships, bursaries and grant schemes on offer for students who need extra support to pay for their UK course. Many institutions offer their own scholarships and bursaries – check the university’s website for more information.

Global Scholarships

You can apply for any of the following scholarships, provided they are appropriate for your course.

  • Chevening Award: Postgraduate scholarships from the UK government aiming at students with potential as future leaders:
  • Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan: Postgraduate scholarships for nationals of Commonwealth countries, funded by the UK government and intended to support individuals who will subsequently make a contribution to the development of their home country:

Country-specific Scholarships and Funding

There are many different scholarships available, some of which depend on where you are from. For more information please visit:



Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) Tariff for Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE)

The HKDSE is included in the UCAS Tariff, which compares it with GCE A-level. Most UK universities have announced that they will accept HKDSE students for direct entry to undergraduate courses with results of 3 HKDSE subjects ranging from 4,3,3 to 5**,5,5. In addition, Applied Learning subjects that are ‘Attained with Distinction’ may be accepted as equivalent to Level 3. UK universities and colleges may use UCAS Tariff as a reference to make admissions decisions.

Please visit the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority website at 

for more details about the general admission requirements for HKDSE from a number of UK institutions.


Application Procedures

(a) Independent Schools & Colleges

Students can apply to schools of their choice directly, at least 1 year before the course starts.

(b) Further Education Colleges

Applications should be sent direct to the institutions.

(c) Higher Education Institutions, Including Universities

For undergraduate courses, students should apply online at UCAS website at For postgraduate programmes, students can apply to the institutions directly or through the UKPASS system provided by UCAS. Please refer to for details.


Student Visa

All students need to apply for a student visa if they intend to study in the UK for more than 6 months. Parents and students need to prepare well in advance to ensure visas can be issued before the start of term.

You can apply for a student visa to study in the UK if you are 16 or over and you:

If you are 16 or 17 and you want to study at an independent school in the UK, you may be eligible for a Child Student Visa instead.

For more information, please refer to for the latest visa application information.


How to apply for a student visa


When you apply for your student visa, you must provide:

  • a current passport or other valid travel documentation
  • a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) from your course provider

The following documents may also be needed, though this will vary depending on your country:

  • evidence showing you can pay for your course and living costs
  • a valid Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate if your course and nationality require it
  • proof of your relationship to your parent or guardian if you are under 18
  • your tuberculosis test results
  • written consent for your application from your financial sponsor if you have received sponsorship for your course fees and living costs in the last 12 months

If you are under 18

If you are under 18, you will need written consent from both parents or legal guardians (or 1 parent if they have sole responsibility). This must include their consent for:

  • your visa application
  • your living and care arrangements in the UK
  • your travel to the UK

You will also need to provide a copy of your birth certificate (or another government-issued document) that shows the names of your parents.


You must apply online for a student visa.

Apply Outside the UK

As part of your application, you will need to prove your identity. How you do this depends on where you are from and what type of passport you have.

You will either:

  • give your fingerprints and a photograph (biometric information) at a visa application centre
  • use the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app to scan your identity document – you will also create or sign into your UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) account

You will be told what you need to do when you apply.

Once you have started your application, you can save your form and complete it later

How long will it take to get my visa?

UK Visas and Immigration aims to process student visas within 15 working days. You are recommended to prepare and apply for your visa well in advance. You can make an application up to 3 months before you intend to travel.

Students with valid HKSAR passport will benefit from a streamlined application process in which they will generally not be expected to provide documentary evidence of financial maintenance and education qualifications.

Applicants can apply up to 3 months in advance of their expected date of travel. They should lodge their applications as soon as possible and allow at least 15 working days from the date of submission at the Visa Application Centre for an outcome (especially during the summer peak period).

Full details of the requirements can be found at Parents and students should read all information carefully to ensure they fully comply before submitting an application.


Working While Studying

During term time, you can work for up to 20 hours a week if you are studying at degree level or above at a higher education institution; or up to 10 hours a week if you are studying a course that is below degree level at a higher education institution or any level at a publicly funded further education college. Students can work full-time during holidays.

Find out more about the hours and types of work you can do on the UKCISA website:



General information

British Council

Telephone: 2913 5100

Fax: 2913 5102


(British Council Hong Kong does not offer individual consultation service on UK education, except at education events.)

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