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Different Classrooms: Teaching Differences between the US and the UK

It’s taken me a few weeks to really settle into my class schedule, and that’s mostly because of how differently classes are treated here. Back home, I’m used to 15 hours a week of class, with each class receiving three hours throughout the week. These hours were usually broken up into one hour or hour and a half sessions, with night classes being the only classes to meet simply once per week. Here, four classes are considered a full schedule, with each one being two hours long. At the same time, the classes are divided into ‘lectures’ and ‘seminars, with lectures being nothing more than exactly what they sound like, and seminars being akin to discussion groups. Getting sick is a pain; since you only have a certain class one day a week, you miss a lot if you miss one class.

To make up for the short amount of time that we actually spend in class, we’re given tons of reading. This is divided up into ‘essential’ and ‘recommended additional’, with the first being necessary for seminar discussions and the later useful either for helping you understand the first, or for additional research that could help with a paper. With all this work, managing your time becomes important; you feel like you have a lot more free time than you really do.

At the same time, students tend to specialize early on; there’s no such thing as going to college without a set major. The focus here isn’t on giving you a rounded knowledge like liberal arts schools in the US; all of your classes pertain directly to your major. This also can make scheduling easy for people who aren’t taking multiple majors; departments make sure that none of their classes for certain years conflict. However, there’s also less leeway given in picking schedules; it would be awkward to take 2nd year and 3rd year classes at the same time, which you can easily do in the US. Rather, British Universities expect you to take them in order, moving along your options in order within a set track. This can make me feel like I’m at a disadvantage in some of my upper level classes; the professors and other students are constantly making references to classes that the British students, moving along their track, have already taken but that I haven’t. This usually means that I have to ask the person next to me what that bit of information meant.

I can’t help but envy the British students sometimes. Those who are going for normal degrees (as in not medical or dentistry), get to graduate in just three years. At the same time, due to heavy government funding, university costs less than 4,000 pounds a year for tuition, or roughly 6,000 dollars a year at the current exchange rate. It’s roughly double that for international students, however, as non British citizens. In the future, though, they may not be so lucky, especially new legislation was recently signed into law by parliament removing the current tuition caps. It may not be for awhile, but university tuition here may eventually become as incredibly expensive as it is in the United States.

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