Specifics of British higher educational system

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Eric Yeatman, the Head of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering in Imperial College London, has completed the cycle of lectures presented at the Mining University. Professor Yeatman earlier held classes at the Berkeley College and Harbin Institute of Technology. He has also been a technical consultant to the world's largest companies in the field of microengineering, as well as he was involved in developing the first self-contained mass spectrometers for liquid analysis on the market and coordination of a few EU projects. In his interview to "Forpost", Professor explained his own view on the differences between the Russian and British educational systems, gave some estimates on the costs of studying in the United Kingdom and provided his own opinion on the importance of the Russian-British Raw Materials Dialogue.

- What is Imperial College London?

- This is a technical university, it was founded in 1907, but it was founded by joining together three older universities. The three institutes were the Royal School of Mines, Royal College of Science and City and Guilds Institute.

- How many students are there at Imperial College and what do they study?

- There are about 15 thousand students at Imperial College. The biggest faculties are engineering, medicine, sciences, and business school.

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- Do all of these students get employed after graduation? Do you keep track of these statistics?

- Of course, this is very important statistics. It is very important to make note of how many former students find employment within six months of graduation as well as of their average salary. We do very well in these statistics. We have a large number of international students. However, sometimes our data is not complete, as it is more difficult to track students that return to their own countries. We also cannot make any estimates of the size of their salaries.

- Do you have any figures for British students though? How many of them finds a job – 100%, 90% or probably less?

- Do you have any figures for British students though? How many of them finds a job – 100%, 90% or probably less?

- And what would be their average salary?

- In the first year, Imperial graduates earn an average of 37,900 pounds, which is 5,000 thousands more than the Oxford and Cambridge. These are the highest numbers in the UK overall.

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- How is the system of admission organized? Do students have to finish some specific school in order to be accepted or everyone may enter the College? What are the entrance exams? What is the criterion?

- We have very strict entrance requirements. Most of them are based on the British A-level system. That means that high school students upon the graduation are required to choose which subjects they would like to study further, and their grades for those subjects should be no lower than "A", which is an analogue for the grade "5" – the highest in Russian schools. We would insist on specific subjects. For engineering – it would be mathematics, physics and one other science.

In the British system, students apply before they finish school, as their school can already make some predictions for their grades. Then we interview the students and make individual offers – each student is told a minimum grade that he must achieve in order to be accepted to the Imperial College.

- What about the international students?

- The procedure is the same.

- Is education free or paid?

- For the UK students, there is a standard tuition fee, which is accepted by Government, which is currently 9000 pounds per year. For overseas students, it is a market price. In our college, that would be approximately 30,000 pounds per year.

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- Are the foreigners eligible for any grants?

- Mostly not, we have very small number of scholarships for international students. Some of the students, though, come with scholarships or through the grants they received in their own countries.

- Can you describe the study process at the Imperial College?

- Most of our engineering students choose Master’s Degree programmes, which take four years. It can be confusing for people from other countries because it is a first degree; it is not a Master’s Degree which comes after the Bachelor’s Degree. We also offer Bachelor’s Degree programmes, but the Bachelor’s Degree is three years and Master’s Degree is four years.

We also have separate Master’s Degrees – MSc, which is a Master of Science. It takes 12 months to complete it. Of course, we also offer PhD programmes, which last for three to four years.

- Is it a common practice for your students to do internship programmes?

- Yes, in a four-year degree most students are required to commence six-month placements. It usually happens when they are in their third year of the degree.

- During the studies, what kind of knowledge your students get – is it more general or specific?

- Most of our degrees are fixed in the first two years, but then in the third and fourth years students have more choices for specialization.

- From time to time, you teach at different universities, the Mining University included. What would be the difference, in your opinion, between Russian and British students?

- Because of our international intake, we probably have more internationally diversfied classes. Your students seem quite well disciplined. They also seem relatively mature in comparison to our students.

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- Are there Russian students at the Imperial College?

- Yes, but there are not many of them.

The Imperial College London is a part of the Golden triangle, which is an unofficial name for the most prestigious British universities. For instance, the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford are both within this grouping. According to QS World University rankings (2013) and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2013), the Imperial is in the top ten of the world’s best universities.

- When the student is ready to graduate, what are the final steps – exams, interviews, field practice?

- Usually, students take written exams and do project work. All graduate students have to do a personal thesis project. It usually takes about six months to finalize it. Every student has to do a project. That work is basically an exam. That project will be examined by interview.

- Is it applicable to some specific enterprise or is it a theoretical project?

- Mostly it is not connected with a company. It is student’s individual work. Sometimes it is connected to the research work of the faculty member who supervised the project.

- Is it possible to repeat the same year of study, for instance, in case of failing exams?

- If they fail, most students have one more opportunity. In general, they can retake the exams. Sometimes, we let the students to repeat the year. However, there will be less than 5% of these students.

- Is there such a system that you enter the university, then you have some break and then you come back to study?

- It is possible but highly unusual.

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- In Great Britain, what education would be more valuable from the perspective of employment – humanitarian or technical? Which one of the graduates is expected to receive a higher salary?

- It would be definitely a technical graduate.

- Is this the motivation for students to enter the college?

- Yes.

- Do you have a set number of students you can admit? How many people per study place apply to the Imperial College?

- In this department, we have about six applicants per place.

- And how many students are there in the Department?

- We have about seven hundred undergraduate students and about 250 Master’s and PhD students.

In Europe and, in particular, in Russia, we used to have these five-year Specialist’s Degree Programmes, which have been rejected since we moved to the Bologna system. As we are aware, you also use the Bologna system here, in the UK. Do you think that it is an effective system? For instance, in Germany they have negative feeling towards it and they want to change it. What is your opinion on it?

We discuss a lot about the Bologna here. In fact, the last one took place yesterday. The Bologna system is supposedly 3+2+3 years of study. That is not really our system. We try to make a four-year course compatible with three plus two study years. With summer work and company placements, we are actually able to get enough ECTS to comply with Bologna system. As for our students, I would say they mostly do not care about the Bologna compliance.

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- Do you invite Nobel laureates or foreign professors as guest lecturers to the Imperial College? Is there any choice criteria?

- There are many different levels. We have some high prestige annual lectures, usually from five to six of these lectures per year. We invite famous people to read them. Of course, we also have many less prestigious departmental lectures and seminars.

- Would you like to say something to Russian students who would hypothetically consider studying at the Imperial College?

- I think Imperial College is an excellent place to study. I certainly encourage students to come to this great city and institution.

- About the Russian-British Raw Dialogue, what possibilities it would bring to professors and students participating in the event?

- We encourage both our professors and students for interaction on the international level and getting involved in the further cooperation. It is also good for the students to get many different experiences.