Education in the UK

Interested in studying in the UK? Read more about the facilities and opportunities provided by Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and LSE here! Also find out what they are looking for in potential students.

Education in the UK

By Ashley Ng

The long-awaited article on education in the United Kingdom is finally here!


As many of you may know, Oxford was where the world-renowned Harry Potter movies were mostly filmed at.


The Divinity School

Two scenes from Harry Potter films were shot in the Divinity School: Hogwart’s infirmary (The Philosopher’s Stone) and the ballroom dancing class scene (The Goblet of Fire). We also visited the Bodleian library, where we found out that Oxford actually houses the world’s largest collection of books, holding every book published since 1602. The library takes in 200,000 books every year which results in the search for 2km of shelving a year. All of their books are housed underground and there are no browsing of books in the Bodleian library.


Our discussion with students from OUMSSA

Aside from visiting the Bodleian library and the Divinity School, we also had lunch with a few students from the Oxford University Malaysian and Singaporean Students’ Association (OUMSSA). We got to know more about the lifestyle there and what it took for them to study in such a prestigious school. These are some of the responses we’ve got when we asked them to share a little:

  1. Firstly, to apply to any UK universities, you have to apply through the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS), filling in your personal details, writing a personal statement and indicating the 5 universities you wish to apply for. Bearing in mind that the same one personal statement will be sent to all the 5 universities, hence your chosen courses should not vary too much.
  2. Once you pass this round, (for Oxford) you are required to attend an interview round. Most of the undergrads we spoke to said that they did their interview through Skype, instead of flying all the way down to UK for a face-to-face interview (which will not be an added benefit unless you want to look at the facilities and explore the campus). The interview will be conducted by two professors. They would present you with a question (depending on the chosen course), and you will have to talk them through your thinking process. Along the way, they may prompt you to help you through, but the main focus of the interview is more for the professors to see how you think and how you would function under a tutorial setting that is more student directed (instead of the teacher spoon-feeding you and students passively sitting there receiving answers)
  3. Oxford is like the SMU of UK. Oxford, itself, is a town, with shops and houses situated around the university and colleges scattered around the town.
  4. Riding a bicycle is very common there. Not many cars are allowed in the streets of Oxford, hence foot traffic is extremely common. Your lectures may not be held in your college, hence you may have to cycle or walk to another college for your lectures, before heading back to your college for tutorials with your professors.
  5. Being a Singaporean will not subject you to discrimination or hinder your learning in any way. There are many Singaporeans currently studying there, and with the help of OUMSSA, you will be well taken care of!



In the World University Ranking, Cambridge is ranked above Oxford.



In Cambridge, one of their unique cultural experiences is punting, where a boat is manoeuvered down the river by a person sticking a long stick into the riverbed and pushing the boat along. Although we did not get to try it out, it seemed very exciting. In addition, we did visit King’s Chapel to listen to the Evensong, which is basically a series of evening prayers conducted in a set form, especially that of the Anglican Church. There are many of such church processions occurring throughout the day in different colleges.

Cambridge has many connections to Singapore. Our Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong graduated from Trinity College in Cambridge. The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew also visited the Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge. In fact, one of our own teacher, Mr Lye, also graduated from Cambridge!

One of the stories I can recount from the walking tour around Cambridge is that there used to be a group of people, who named themselves the Nightclimbers. Why the Nightclimbers? They would scale the large facades of buildings and carry out their shenanigans at night. One of the hilarious things they did was changing the Sceptre, Edward the III is holding in his right hand, to a measly chair leg.


Trinity College, Edward the III in the middle of the building

Besides these, there are many more interesting stories that our tour guide, Mr Steve, told us. He said that between 1904 and 1974, there were 22 nobel prize winners from Cambridge. Some of their discoveries may be familiar to you: for the splitting of the atom, discovering the double helix of the DNA, discovering electrons. Such discoveries and realizations truly shaped the world we live in. We even visited the very bar that Crick and Watson (the 2 astounding men who discovered the double helix of the DNA) came to have lunch, The Eagle.

We ended off the day listening to bell ringing at St. Mary The Great. They were not by your typical handbells, but were real, massive church bells! We could not enter the place where the physical bells were situated, but the demonstrators were tugging on the strings at stipulated times and strength in order to make the bell ring at a very specific time and way.


The Bell Ringers

Here is a demonstration of how the bells are rang:

Walking along the river at night was another sight to behold, with beautiful white swans gathering by the riverbed and the gleaming white reflection off the water surface. The cool breeze was blowing as we held our cups of hot chocolate and gathered at a field near the river. It was truly the full Cambridge experience.


Beautiful Swans at the river



At Imperial, we were brought around the campus by two students studying Medicine. They were very friendly and personable, and we struck up conversations with them very easily. I found out that the interview round in Imperial is fairly more straightforward as compared to that of Oxford, where the interviewer will ask simple questions like, “Why are you interested in this course?”. (Although Imperial also does not have business course for undergraduates)

Imperial college is located near many fascinating museums, the Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and the National History Museum. In addition, since the college is located near the Royal College of Music, they have the advantage of being able to hold an interesting BSc Physics and Music performance course.


London school of Economics and Political Science (LSE)


Firstly, LSE has a wide variety of courses to choose from (not only econs). It is located in the heart of Theatreland and many theatres, such as the Duchess Theatre and the Theatre Royal are just a stone’s throw away.


We were brought on a short tour of the campus and what amazed me the most, was the astonishing library. It was like a shopping mall for books. The comfortable seats, the wide collection of books, the spiral platform leading from one level to the next, the lifts! It was the ideal place to study and collect research materials.


The library at LSE

But, what if you are studying there and suddenly you miss Singaporean food? Have no fear! There is actually an Old Chang Kee located a few minutes away from LSE! The delicious curry puffs and a refreshing bowl of Laksa will be sure to keep your homesickness at bay.


Old Chang Kee visit

Some important things to note when writing your personal statement for this school is that:

  1. 75-90% of your personal statement should be about your academic achievements
  2. 10-25% should address relevant extracurricular activities such as voluntary/charity work, work experience, internships or paid employments, sporting achievements and social activities, additional positions of responsibility etc.
  3. The school would really like to see that you are deeply passionate about the course, so be sure to find a way to show it!


Lessons in education from Finland

Finland’s education system has frequently been lauded as the best in world, coming out tops in global education system rankings every year. As such, many countries, Singapore included, have sought to adapt the Finnish system to their own.

Some argue that the key element to implement the Finnish model to Singapore is how both societies are collective in nature, that emphasises common good over the individual. Since the culture gap between Singapore and Finland is not as wide as most believe, it is hence possible to adapt Finland’s education system to our own. (“Possible to adapt Finnish education model to S’pore”; May 28)

However, just because both Singaporean and Finnish societies are collectivist does not necessarily mean that the Finnish education system is suitable for implementation in Singapore. There are definitely a lot more cultural complexities within each country that are unique to each society, which makes it perceivably difficult to simply “cut and paste” measures in Finland’s education system and place it in Singapore’s.

For instance, a large part of the Finnish education system is their policy on homework. As the OECD think tank says, “One of the most striking facts about Finnish schools is that their students have fewer hours of instruction than students in any other OECD country.” While Singaporean teachers can and have been trying to reduce the amount of homework given to students of late, simply adopting this policy will not achieve similar results for Singapore. We cannot deny that there are cultural differences between Finland and Singapore like the high degree of importance that parents place on homework for their children in Singapore which is not as evident in Finland. Thus, simply copying Finland’s education policies would not be the best way to adapt Finland’s system to Singapore’s.

I do not deny that gleaning lessons from Finland’s education system is important for Singapore, I do feel that there are more effective ways to adapt it to Singapore’s system. Instead of simply copying Finland’s education methods, perhaps a better way would be to changing our attitudes towards education as Finland does.

Instead of implementing the policy of reduced homework or national examinations in Singapore, we should consider the underlying reason behind it. To Finnish society, the point of assessments are to pinpoint areas where students lack understanding and give students individualised feedback, allowing teachers to give students early intervention to aid their learning. This attitude towards assessment can be adapted to Singapore. While it may be a long and arduous process, getting people to see that assessments should not become a way to pit students against each other but rather to help them identify their weaknesses and improve might make a greater impact. By changing how people view assessments, followed by implementing policy changes, changes in the education system would then be well received and effective.

Another way in which Singapore’s education system can really be changed would be to change society’s attitudes towards teaching as a vocation. In Finland, teaching is a highly valued profession. Despite a vigorous training programme that includes a five-year degree, there is stiff competition for the degree. Teachers in Finland are also highly respected by the rest of society for making a difference to young people’s lives. While I am sure that the teaching profession is respected among Singaporeans, it still has not reached the level of being as coveted as it is in Finland. There are many who do not view teaching as a prized vocation due to the low pay that teachers usually receive and perceived lack of qualifications that teachers have. I feel that this attitude disparity is something that Singapore should correct before starting to implement changes to the system itself. Without truly respecting and valuing teaching, it would be difficult to enforce lasting change in the education system.

Indeed, Finland’s education system should be something that Singapore should aspire to and strive to emulate. However, we should not be blindly copying all their measures and instead work to change our attitudes towards education. 

By Soh Wen Shuen

Eunoia Junior College, Student


Picture credit:

Morocco World News