Higher Education

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Higher Education (abbreviated to HE) is a term used to label a stage of education somewhere after the years of compulsory schooling. The vagueness of "somewhere" is deliberate: the term is not precisely defined, and varies in its application between countries. A quick definition which may apply in most countries is 'the level of education that leads to academic (or University) degrees'. This might lead to discussion of what constitutes a University degree, and problems of comparability between countries.

Higher Education always comes after compulsory schooling. Many people go straight to work when they leave school - often with great relief - but others continue to learn in formal education. In Britain, some progress to Further Education (FE) after their school years. This is usually thought of as the level 'below' HE; but increasingly FE Colleges are offering some courses that lead to degrees, at least in part; and there are courses traditionally thought of as FE that are provided in HE Institutions. Most of those who 'go on' from school, however, go to University or the equivalent. These are 'the traditional students'. There are increasing numbers - and forms - of the 'non-traditional' student as well; those who have worked for five or ten years, perhaps, and now welcome a chance that they might have rejected at school; those who have concentrated on families for years, and now want a wider life; people who have retired from work; or mature students from other countries - the range is very wide.

The basic level of teaching and learning in Higher Education is the undergraduate level, usually called the Bachelor's in American English. This is for the good reason that it leads to the first degree awarded to a student, the BA, BSc, LlB - or many other forms of Baccalaureate. An undergraduate course is normally for three years, particularly in England and Wales. After graduating, a student (now a Bachelor) often leaves study, and gets a job. Those who stay are doing postgraduate study - the level after graduation. Postgraduate study usually takes one or both of two forms, although members of many professions take other courses designed specifically for their requirements. In general, there are Master's degrees, which last either one or two years. These come in two forms: the taught Master's, which continues the forms of undergraduate learning to a higher level, and the research Master's, which allows the student to undertake her or his own discoveries, under supervision and with training. The other form of postgraduate study is the Doctorate, in general the PhD, or 'Doctor of Philosophy'. Doctorates are normally purely research - although many professions, notably madicine, use them to mark additional periods of intense learning and teaching - and are expected to take three years. They are examined by Thesis.

The current guide (the A.W.E. project) is written primarily for students in HE.

See Phases of Education in the UK. You may also be interested in the looser phrase Tertiary education.