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General Information

The United Kingdom is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It has a long history as a major player in international affairs and fulfils an important role in the EU, UN and Nato.

The twentieth century saw Britain having to redefine its place in the world. At the beginning of the century, it commanded a world-wide empire as the foremost global power.

Two world wars and the end of empire diminished its role, but the UK remains an economic and military power, with considerable political and cultural influence around the world.

Britain was the worlds first industrialised country. Its economy remains one of the largest, but it has for many years been based on service industries rather than on manufacturing.

The Palace of Westminster is home to one of the worlds oldest parliaments

At a glance

  • Politics: Prime Minister David Cameron of the centre-right Conservative Party, headed first a coalition with the Liberal Democrats then a majority Conservative government. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have varying degrees of political autonomy.
  • Economy: The UK is recovering steadily from a slump that followed the 2008 global financial crisis. Londons financial industry is a significant part of the services-based economy
  • International: The UK is a key global player diplomatically and militarily. It plays leading roles in the EU, UN and Nato

Special Report: United Kingdom Direct

The process of deindustrialisation has left behind lasting social problems and pockets of economic weakness in parts of the country.

More recently, the UK has suffered a deep economic slump and high public debt as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, which revealed its over-reliance on easy credit, domestic consumption and rising house prices.

Efforts to rein in the public debt – one of the developed worlds highest – has led to deep cuts to welfare, government services and the military, prompting concern about social equality and a possible loss of international influence.

Despite being a major member of the EU, the country is not part of the eurozone, and looks unlikely to join. Opposition to the EUs common currency was boosted by a feeling that the pound had softened the blow of the financial crisis and spared the UK the eurozone crisis.

More generally, anti-EU feeling, fed by a concern over national sovereignty and perceptions of diminished autonomy, is strong among many Britons.

Prime Minister David Cameron, under pressure from the right of his Conservative Party, has promised a referendum on whether to remain in the European Union in 2017, and will seek radical EU reform beforehand to justify continued membership.

Critics say risking a British exit from the EU could mean courting economic disaster, as most of the UKs international trade is within the EU.

In response to growing dissatisfaction with the UKs traditionally highly centralised nature, the London government devolved powers to separate parliaments in Scotland and Wales in 1999.

But this did not stop the centrifugal trend. A nationalist government has been in power in Scotland since 2007. A referendum on independence was held in September 2014, with 55% of voters opting to remain as part of the United Kingdom and 45% favouring independence.

In Northern Ireland, after decades of violent conflict, the Good Friday agreement of 1998 led to a new assembly with devolved powers, bringing hopes of lasting peace.

Multi-nation kingdom

The United Kingdom is made up of four countries, three of which have devolved powers. Voters in a Scottish referendum in 2014 rejected independence, with 55% opting to remain part of the United Kingdom and 45% voting for independence


The UK is ethnically diverse, partly as a legacy of empire. Lately, the country has been struggling with issues revolving around multiculturalism, immigration and national identity.

Concerns about terrorism and Islamist radicalism heightened after the suicide bomb attacks on Londons transport network in 2005.

There has also been a debate about immigration. Some advocate tough policies on limiting immigration, others attempt to put the case for it as a positive force.

One of the more recent trends in migration has been the arrival of workers from the new EU member states in Eastern Europe.


The UK has been a major force in global youth culture since the heyday of the Beatles and Rolling Stones in the 1960s.

It has a rich literary heritage encompassing the works of English writers such as William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, Scot Robert Burns, Welshman Dylan Thomas and Northern Irishman Seamus Heaney.

The capital, London, is a major centre for trade and culture

Detailed Information

You can apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa to study in the UK if you’re 16 or over and you:

  • You can apply for a visa up to 3 months before the start of your course.
  • You should get a decision on your visa within 3 weeks.
  • Check the guide processing times to find out how long getting a visa might take in your country.
  • It costs £322 to apply for this visa from outside the UK.
  • You must pay £322 per person for any dependants.
  • You’ll also have to pay the healthcare surcharge as part of your application. Check how much you’ll have to pay before you apply.

You can arrive in the UK before your course starts:

  • Up to 1 week before, if your course lasts 6 months or less
  • Up to 1 month before, if your course lasts more than 6 months

How long you can stay depends on the kind, of course, you’re doing and what study you’ve already completed.

You can:

  • Study
  • Work as a student union sabbatical officer
  • Apply from inside or outside the UK
  • Apply to extend your stay
  • Work – depending on what level your course is and what kind of sponsor you have

You can’t:

Read the full guidance to find out how long you might be able to stay and what you can and can’t do. You must have:

  • An unconditional offer of a place on a course with a licensed Tier 4 sponsor
  • Enough money to support yourself and pay for your course – this will vary depending on your circumstances
  • Read the guide and appendix for the full list of documents and how much money you’ll need.

    You can do a course that’s one of the following:

    • Full-time leading to a qualification that’s at least level 6 on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF)
    • An overseas course of degree level study that’s equal to a UK higher education course and is being run by an overseas higher education institution
    • A full-time course with at least 15 hours per week of organised daytime study leading to a qualification below degree level but at least NQF level 3
    • A recognised foundation programme as a postgraduate doctor or dentist

You can apply for this visa if you’re sponsored to do a recognised foundation programme and you’ve:

  • Finished a recognised UK degree in medicine or dentistry
  • Received that degree from a registered Tier 4 sponsor
  • Spent your final year and at least 1 other year of studies leading to that degree in the UK

Your education provider will send you a reference number called a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS) once they’ve offered you a place on a course. You’ll need to enter this on your visa application.

You must apply for your visa no more than 6 months after you receive the CAS.

You can only get a CAS for a new course if you’ve studied in the UK before and you’re:

  • Studying for a new qualification at a higher academic level
  • Studying for a new qualification that’s at the same level of study but relates to and adds to your previous qualification
  • Re-sitting exams or repeating modules

Applying for the first time to a new institution to complete a course you started somewhere else.


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