How is teaching and learning time structured at UK universities?

When we speak to international students studying in the UK, we are often pleased to hear that they find university tutors very friendly and approachable. In their home countries, students can find that their teachers are very professional, yet formal in their approach. It can be quite a shock when university tutors in the UK ask you to call them by their first names! Aside from friendly staff, UK universities may have other ways of teaching which are new to you. We’ve asked recent university graduates to share their experiences of lectures, library study and general learning time to give you a better idea of what you can expect. Once you understand how you’re likely to be taught, we’d recommend speaking to a course representative at your chosen university. They will be able to give you a clear breakdown and help answer any specific concerns.

How will I be taught?

At UK universities, you will be taught via lectures, smaller seminar groups (typically only around 10 people), labs and one-on-one sessions if you request them. Lectures will be taught by professors (they may also have the ‘Dr’ title) and hundreds of students can be present in the same lecture. These students will be studying on your course and can also be from other programs. This is because some courses will allow students to choose a module (subject) which isn’t directly from their course, for example, studying a social science module when your main degree is in English. This can seem confusing, but it’s broken down quite simply; you will have core modules and then a small number of credits which you can be flexible with. Seminars are typically led by lecturers or PhD students who are close to getting their doctorates. These sessions are focused on group discussions and you will be asked to prepare some work before attending them. Labs, on the other hand, are seen as the STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) version of seminars! During these sessions, students will be experimenting with physical or chemical matters in a controlled environment.

How many hours will I be taught per week?

This will depend on your course and what year you’re in, however, in order to get a realistic idea of your taught hours, keep in mind that there are 120 credits in each academic year. These are split between semesters (autumn and summer) equally, however, in extenuating circumstances, you may be able to do an 80/40 split. This is usually the case if a student really wants to study modules which are only taught in the first semester. For a 10 credit module, students can expect 1-2 hours of lecture time per week. On STEM courses, this is usually accompanied by labs. This makes courses such as engineering quite intensive in terms of lecture time. For arts degrees, a lot of personal studies is required as you will be expected to do a lot of reading. Therefore, you can only expect around 6-12 hours per week and typically some of these hours will be group seminars to build on your lectures. In your final year, taught time will diminish significantly as you will be focusing on your dissertation.

What will I do when I’m not in lectures or other sessions?

Universities in the UK are very much focused on self-learning and development. This means that teaching time will only make up a small part of your course and you will be expected to do a lot of reading and studying around your degree. Your lecturers will tell you how much study time you should be dedicated to each module during your first lectures to give you a guide. When it comes to personal study, your university will have numerous library and learning spaces which you can use 7 days a week (some maybe 24 hours, such as the Information Commons at the University of Sheffield). You can book computers, reserve your course books and you’ll usually have the freedom to use whatever study space you want. If your work gets too much then your student service department or course leader will be happy to help. Most students find that a balance of studying diligently and then socialising during the evenings/weekends is a good way to manage their time. After all, it’s important to give yourself some time off!

“The best way to keep up to date with your academic work is by building on things you have learnt in your lectures straight after them. Take a couple of hours to read journals and pages from your course books – you’ll have more to go off when it comes to assignments. If you don’t keep up to date you’ll usually cram and cause yourself unnecessary stress!” – Victoria, Sheffield University graduate

Can I get academic help?

Yes. If you’re struggling with your workload, a particular module, or if you’re feeling homesick or upset, there are very good support systems available to students. Don’t be afraid to ask, university staff are there to help and your university will employ trained professionals who can help you with any personal/financial/academic worries. Your university should also provide workshops for essential skills such as essay writing and referencing, so make the most of these if you can. Look out for sessions advertised on your department’s notice board and ask at student services if you need more information. We hope that has given you a greater insight into life at a UK university! We’d like to emphasise just how much help there is available to students, so if you have any concerns, speak to a consultant at IEC Abroad or ask a member of university staff (this can be before you start or during your course). Finally, keep checking the IEC Abroad blog, it’s full of advice and information about studying in the UK.