International pathway programmes are courses designed for international (usually non-EU) students to progress into British universities.
There are three different levels available:
- International Foundation Programme (IFP) (NQF Level 3: Equivalent to A-levels, or “Year 0” of an undergraduate degree)
- International Diploma / International Year One (NQF Level 4: Equivalent to Year 1 of an undergraduate degree)
- Pre-Masters Programme (NQF Level 6: Essentially a top-up for someone who has already completed an undergraduate degree.)
It is usually easy enough to figure out which level you require, though here is a further explanation on each:
International Foundation Programmes
The British school system consists of 13 years in total. In contrast, most non-EU countries only have a 12 year system. British universities therefore require international students to undertake extra study before going to university. Students have a few options:
- Study a two year A-level, BTEC, IB or Pre-U course at a UK school or 6 th form college
- Study a (usually 3 term) IFP at a college or university campus.
The 2 year academic programmes offer a broader range of study, and are fully accepted by ALL universities. In contrast, IFPs will limit study to just one pathway (Business, Engineering, Science, Humanities etc.) and are almost never accepted by the elite universities. If you wish to progress to a top 5 university, or study Medicine or Dentistry, then you should not take a foundation programme.
IFP: Where can you study?
Many awarding bodies operate globally, so students can often take a foundation in a local overseas college, before progressing to the first year in a UK university. However, this option does not offer students a chance to adapt to the British way of learning, and the course delivery (teaching quality, student resources etc.) can sometimes be of questionable quality. It is also worth noting that such IFPs may have limited progression options (i.e. a limited number of universities recognise and accept the qualification.) Whilst it is usually a cheaper option, studying an IFP overseas may not always produce the best academic outcomes.
In the UK, there are two main types of institutions where you can take an IFP: An FE/private 6 th form college, or an on-campus international study centre at a host university. Here are the main differences:
IFP at an FE or 6 th form college - Key points:
- Located in colleges of varying quality around the UK
- A range of pathway subjects are offered. Students take just one option (e.g a Business pathway.)
- Suitable for students aged 16.5+ who have completed high school in their home country.
- IELTS requirements are usually 5.0+. Some colleges offer a term of English preparation for students with lower IELTs scores.
- Some IFPs are recognised by 80+ universities, others are recognised by fewer than 30 universities.
- Students will apply to a range of universities through UCAS, and most colleges support students with advice during this process.
- Success rates can vary widely. In some cases 80%+ of students complete the course and go on to university in the UK. In other cases less than half of students manage to even complete the course.
IFP on a university campus – Key points:
- Located in universities around the UK.
- Some are run independently by the university, others have joint ventures with private education providers.
- Students study on campus (in most cases) and are considered full university students.
- Accommodation is provided on the university campus, again, in most cases.
- Students usually study in an international centre, in classes of only international students.
- Progression to the host university is guaranteed, providing you meet the progression grade requirements. The higher-ranked universities usually have higher progression requirements, so always keep in mind that NOTHING is genuinely “guaranteed.”
Main benefits of an IFP:
- Shorter (so often cheaper) study duration.
- Focussed study on one specific subject.
- Usually have lower entry requirements than A-levels/IB etc
- English language support is often provided.
- Termly checks on your progress (on most courses.)
- FE and 6 th form colleges provide the potential to progress onto a wide range of universities (more choice.)
- University IFPs are often (but not always) developed to meet the subject nuances of the host university.
- “Guaranteed” progression at the host university (providing you achieve the required progression grades!)
- Teachers with expert experience of helping international students adapt to life in the UK.
- A good chance to acclimatise to life in the UK before undergraduate studies.
Main risks of an IFP
- Less depth of study than A-levels/IB, meaning you may not be as thoroughly prepared for university.
- The short timescale can increase your chances of failure/non-progression.
- Some courses have very limited progression options: Either in choice of university, or choice of subject within that university.
- Some colleges and on-campus IFPs are run by venture capital firms whose primary goal is short-term profit. Students can sometimes be treated as numbers or commodities instead of people, with quantity taking priority over quality.
- Many students choose an on-campus IFP because the university has a high ranking. It is important to remember that you may not meet the high progression requirements: Just because you start in a certain university does not mean you will progress there. Also, you may arrive and find that you don’t like the location or ethos of the university, but you are locked in to spend a total of 4 years somewhere you don’t want to be. Sometimes it is better to keep your options open and explore university choice whilst you are studying in an FE or 6 th form college.
- To repeat the point: Most IFPs taken at universities are non-transferrable. That is to say, you have no option to progress from your IFP to a different university: You are locked in to the same university pathway for 4 years in total.
- Some foundation providers can be quite “creative” when providing details of their progression success: Beware of misleading statistics!
- The nationality mix may not be very varied! You may find that one or two nationalities dominate.
- The UKVI has increased its restrictions on some colleges offering visas for foundation programmes. It is essential to check which type of visa a college/university will issue you, and seek professional advice on the visa implications if you fail the course and need to repeat at the same level.
IFPs can be a good alternative to A-levels if students want to save time. There are, however, many pitfalls you must look out for. Please call us on 01622 813879 for 100% impartial advice on your options, or complete an enquiry form.
International Diploma / International Year One
These courses are similar in concept to an IFP. The key difference is that they are a level above the foundation, i.e. equivalent to the first year of a university degree.
Whereas an IFP leads to year 1 of an undergraduate degree, an International Diploma is designed to lead to year 2 of an undergraduate degree.
These courses are also similar to the IFPs, in that they offer a specific pathway (Business, Engineering etc.) They are available in a limited number of 6 th form colleges, but are most prominent in universities, where they are usually taught by a private education provider in partnership with the host university.
International Diploma in a 6 th form college – Key points
- Fewer colleges provide this than provide an IFP
- Suitable for students who did not get the required UCAS points or IELTs score to progress directly on to an undergraduate first year. Some requirements for an International Diploma are as low as 120 UCAS points, and IELTS of 5.0.
- These courses are also suitable for students who want a softer landing in university: There is more teacher contact time, language support, and study skill support, arguably giving students a more supportive environment and greater chance of success.
- Progression options can be much more limited than IFPs. Fewer universities recognise and accept these courses from private colleges. The on-campus university courses will also have a limited number of year 2 degrees students can progress onto.
- Again, progression grade requirements can vary from course to course.
International Diploma Summary:
An International Diploma is a great alternative to the UCAS clearing lottery, and students can receive offers outside of the UCAS system. It is particularly useful to have an offer if you are concerned you will not meet the requirements for your conditional university offers. Please call us on 01622 813870 for 100% impartial advice, and we can help get you a suitable back-up offer in place. Alternatively, please complete our enquiry form.
Finally, these courses are again available at colleges and universities around the UK. In most cases, you will need to have completed a degree in your home country to take one of these courses.
A Pre-Masters programme is most suitable for students who:
- Have an undergraduate degree from a country that is not recognised as equivalent to a UK undergraduate degree.
- Got a low grade in their undergraduate degree, and therefore do not meet the entry requirements for direct entry onto a Masters degree.
- Wish to study a Masters degree that has no relation to their undergraduate degree.
- Require extra English language training before pursuing their Masters degree.
The nuances and pitfalls you need to consider are similar to those required when selecting an IFP or Diploma programme.
It is often difficult to know whether or not you require such a course.