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British university
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British university

Most British universities can be classified into 5 main categories,

The vast majority of British universities are state financed, with only one private university - the University of Buckingham - where students have to pay all their fees. None of the universities are actually state-owned, however. British undergraduate students (and students from other EU countries) have to pay a proportion of their university fees up to a maximum of approximately 11,000; this is assessed on the basis of the income of the student and of the student's family. Students are partially supported by a state-provided loan, a portion of which is also means-tested. Students in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are also eligible for a means-tested grant, and many universities provide bursaries to poorer students. International students are not subsidised by the state and so have to pay much higher fees similar to those paid at Ivy League universities in the USA. In principal all postgraduate students are liable for fees, though a variety of scholarship and assistantship schemes exist which may provide support.

The University of London and the University of Wales are unusual in that their colleges/constituent institutions are treated as universities in their own right.

Undergraduate applications to UK state universities are managed by UCAS - the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

Reputations

British universities tend to have a strong reputation internationally, although this is limited to a small number of internationally known universities (notably Oxford, Cambridge and a few of the London colleges). Within Britain a university's reputation is sometimes proportional to its age. However this distinction is becoming blurred with the top red brick universities challenging Oxbridge, a development accelerated by the introduction of league tables ranking university teaching and research in which Oxford and Cambridge are sometimes matched or beaten by other universities. Despite this, there is still a clear two-tier system in operation, with less well-considered universities often struggling to attract able students, staff and funding. Many of the less highly regarded universities have had to expand into new areas (such as media studies and sports science) in order to compete.

Recent academic analysis of published statistics has pointed to the existence of 4 groupings of universities in terms of academic performance: the elites, the top old universities, the other old universities, and the new universities (ex-polytechnics and others that have achieved university status since 1992). The elite group consists of Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and the specialist institutions Imperial and LSE - the latter 3 being colleges of the University of London. The other members of the Russell Group lie in the second tier of 22 universities, along with Bath, Durham, Leicester, Queen's University Belfast, St Andrews, UMIST and York.

However, if one thing is to be learnt from recent statistics it is that comparisons in a single subject (which is what students are generally interested in) often give quite different answers from overall comparisons. In the 2003 Times Good University Guide, 21 universities come top in at least one subject area, 41 are in the top three in at least one subject area, and 80 are in the top ten in at least one subject area. The most famous example of subject-specific ranking being dramatically different from the overall ranking is probably in history, where Oxford Brookes, the former polytechnic, gained a higher research rating than the elite Oxford University. Another example is in Civil Engineering, where Wales dominates the Times table - Cardiff and Swansea taking first and second - and neither Oxford nor Cambridge make the top ten.

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