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The United Kingdom consists of 4 countries: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. Historically, it has been one of the most powerful, prosperous, influential countries in Europe, defined by its dominant seapower and robust literary and scientific traditions. Today, the UK is the world's 6th largest economy, and a major heavyweight in geopolitics. Its capital city, London, is one of the world’s largest cities, and has been for centuries. Combining a rich and deep history with a bustling and unmistakable cosmopolitan modernity, with a common thread of British culture tying it all together, the United Kingdom is an exciting destination for students and travelers.
As one of the most developed nations on Earth, the United Kingdom has all the conveniences of an industrialized and technology-laden society. Its public transportation systems are excellent (including both local and long-distance systems), and its streets are fairly safe. The specifics of getting around will of course vary from place to place, but buses and trains run in even the most remote rural areas of the country, so students typically have no trouble getting out of town on weekends or traveling during their breaks.
Education in the United Kingdom varies widely based on country: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all have fully independent educational systems. The overwhelming majority of foreign nationals studying in the UK are in England, but there are excellent options elsewhere as well, particularly in Scotland, which has a long and impressive record of contributions to intellectual and educational life in Europe.
Throughout the United Kingdom, full-time education is generally mandatory for children ages 5 to 16. State-funded preschools are available starting at age 3, but attendance is not mandatory. Secondary education typically continues to around age 18, when students sit for examinations that will determine their chances of getting into a college or university. The specifics of these tests vary from country to country.
In the UK, and particularly in England, there is a complicated system of schools that are state-funded, independent, or somewhere in between. The latter include voluntary aided schools, voluntary controlled schools (typically parochial schools whose relationship to the government is complex), and foundation schools. Small vocational and technical academies also abound throughout the nation.
Higher education in the United Kingdom has been significantly affected by the Bologna process, which seeks to create uniform standards for higher education throughout Europe. As the home of some of the continent's oldest and most illustrious institutions of higher learning, the UK was naturally placed to take a leadership role in this process. However, the age and diversity of schools within the UK have made conformity difficult, especially in Scotland, which has a unique and ancient system of higher education.
Every year, large numbers of students from around the world flock to the United Kingdom's revered colleges and universities to study a wide range of subjects, including literature, medicine, the sciences, and of course the English language. From graduate degrees at world-renowned institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge to semester- or year-long study-abroad programs in any number of diverse settings throughout the country, there are countless options available for those who want to study in the UK.