Scottish Education compared to English Education


The bonny arcane lands of Scotland are not too different to England. The rolling green hills are much the same as Cumbria, but culturally, Scotland has some obvious differences – bagpipes, Burns night, haggis, those silly flat caps with the ginger hair attached. However, one area where we differ quite drastically is education. Both secondary school and higher education is different in Scotland.

Firstly, our qualifications are quite different; we do not have GCSEs or A-levels. We have National 5s and Highers, respectively. Highers are the key to higher education, especially university. They’re also done over one academic year rather than two. I personally cannot fathom doing higher mathematics over two years – one was enough! We also have a subject level above higher/A-level – Advanced Higher. Advanced Highers are designed to mimic what a first-year university course may look like for that subject. As well as doing seven Highers, I did advanced higher chemistry and English which saw me having to do a 10,000-word dissertation for English and subsequently a thoroughly planned and evaluated chemistry project over several months. While these were quite tricky subjects, they showed me two vastly different experiences, both of which I was considering for further study. I ultimately chose English to study at university because it resonated with me more and I felt I had a natural affinity for it, but I still loved, and still do love, chemistry.

If you’re currently considering a university to go to, you may forget that Scotland has plenty to offer as well. St. Andrews University is probably the most famous university as it’s considered quite prestigious. It’s a fascinating culture divide where we sometimes don’t consider the other countries within our United Kingdom. When I was at school, English universities were very rarely considered unless you were specifically looking for something not offered in Scotland. Scottish citizens also receive free university tuition for Scottish universities, so that is a natural pull factor to stay within the sphere of Scottish higher education.

Another thing to note is that Scottish universities work slightly different than English universities in terms of their degree pathways and the length of degrees. Generally speaking, a bog-standard bachelor’s degree takes four years in Scotland, whereas it takes 3 in England. Year 1 and 2 are more introductory and year 3 and 4 are the ‘honours’ year where your work contributes to your overall degree classification. Personally, I’m glad it was four years because university is such a nice experience and getting it for a little bit longer makes all the difference. There is also a system somewhat like the American ‘major-minor’ system whereby depending on your chosen degree, there is sometimes opportunity to study different disciplines from your own. For example, I had to do three modules every semester, but in first and second year there was only one English module per semester, so I got to pick two others from different disciplines. I studied subjects like history, film studies, geography, and politics – none of which I ‘signed’ up for necessarily, but by no means regret.

So, all in all, Scotland is not a place to ignore for your higher education future, in some cases, it may be the better option for you. As people say endlessly, ‘university is the best time of your life’ so getting an extra year of it, studying a wider range of modules, and studying in one of the beautiful cities may just make that experience all the better!