Everyone knows that in order to go to university in the UK, generally speaking, you need to "enter" based on excellent public exam results (IB, A-Level). However, more and more students planning to study in the UK are also beginning to learn about university foundation programs.

So, what exactly is the UK University Foundation Program? How is it different from traditional high school courses? Why can studying a foundation program lead to admission to a UK university? Although this article will take a little bit of your time, I guarantee that after reading it, you will have a better understanding of the secrets of the university foundation program.

  1. What is a university foundation program (Foundation)?
  2. How does a university foundation program (Foundation) connect to university?
  3. Comparison of types of university foundation classes (Foundation)
  4. Why should one study a university foundation program (Foundation)?
  5. How to choose a suitable school?
  6. What if the university foundation program (Foundation) requirements are not met?

1. What is a university foundation program (Foundation)?

Compared to public examination courses such as A-Level/IB, universities generally only accept the scores of university foundation programs (Foundation) from institutions that have established a collaboration with the program. Therefore, if a student's goal is to enter top universities like Oxbridge, LSE, or Imperial College, which do not offer foundation programs, they can only do so through the public examinations and not through the foundation program.

However, if a student's goal is to enter other well-known universities that offer foundation programs, such as Durham, Manchester, Lancaster, etc., then considering factors such as time, cost, and depth of the curriculum, the university foundation program (Foundation) has its own advantages.

Popular universities in the UK:

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Foundation program includes students of all nationalities @Study Group

2. How does a university foundation program (Foundation) connect to university?

Many people may wonder, if the Foundation program for university study does not require taking public exams, how do they assess whether students meet the requirements for admission to UK universities? As mentioned earlier, the Foundation program is organized by universities themselves, jointly operated by universities and third-party educational institutions, or independently run by educational institutions. The "Foundation providers" offering these different Foundation courses have slightly different models for bridging students to universities.

One to One Foundation

In the UK, there are over 130 universities, and 80% of them offer university foundation courses. These foundation courses are either organized by the universities themselves or in collaboration with educational institutions. One type of foundation course is called "One to One Foundation". Whether organized by the university or in collaboration, these foundations are only affiliated with one university. Students will attend classes, live in university dormitories, use university facilities, and participate in university clubs and activities at the affiliated university. Their lifestyle is no different from that of regular university students. For example, if a student wishes to study at Durham University, they would choose Durham University's foundation course and study and live at Durham University.

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Durham University

Due to the fact that the "One to One Foundation" program is designed specifically for the affiliated university and takes place in a university environment, it is more suitable for students who have already chosen a preferred university and have a strong sense of independence in their studies and daily life. When applying for the Foundation program, students are also required to inform the affiliated university about their intended major for future studies. In addition to being accepted into the Foundation program, students will also receive a conditional acceptance from the affiliated university.

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Offer letter for Durham University's Foundation Course.

The offer letter will clearly state the promotion criteria, and as long as students achieve the specified scores in the Foundation course, the affiliated university will unconditionally admit them. Typically, there are two promotion criteria: academic requirements of 60% - 70% and English language requirements of 65% (equivalent to IELTS 6.5, which is required for most undergraduate programs in UK universities). Of course, there may be some differences for each university. If students meet both the academic and English language scores, they do not need to take the IELTS exam again, nor do they need to go through any registration process. They are guaranteed automatic progression to Year 1 of the university.

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2.1 One to Many Foundation, apply to suitable universities based on grades.

In addition, there are also some independent university foundation programs operated by educational institutions. These foundations are not directly affiliated with any specific university but are recognized by many universities. Therefore, they are referred to as "One to Many do not attend classes at any specific university but instead study at colleges operated by educational institutions. They reside in college dormitories or host families and utilize the facilities provided by the college. Throughout their studies in the foundation program, the college assists students in applying to different universities based on their abilities, performance in the foundation program, and personal goals. (Except for Oxbridge, LSE, and Imperial College, students can apply to other universities).

The colleges that offer these types of foundations provide students with more personalized advice for further education, especially for those who need more attention from teachers, have difficulty assessing their own academic levels, or do not have a clear university goal. Additionally, if a Form 5 student goes to study in the UK, parents may naturally worry about their daily living and meals. Therefore, some parents specifically choose this type of "One to Many Foundation" operated independently by educational institutions because the college arranges for students to stay with host families who provide two meals a day for the students.

Generally speaking, as long as students achieve a 70% academic score in the "One to Many Foundation" program and score between 6.0 to 6.5 in the IELTS English exam, they can generally be admitted to universities ranked in the top 30 overall or in the top 30 for specific subjects in the UK. For example, mpw  is a representative institution that offers the One to Many Foundation program and is well-known for having many students admitted to the top 30 universities in the UK.

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Bellerbys College Brighton@ Study Group

3. Comparison of types of university foundation programs (Foundation)

CatergoryOne to One FoundationOne to Many Foundation
University of Leeds Durham University University of Sheffield University of NottinghamBellerbys NCUK
Class Location 
Shared facilities on campus
College or International Center, shared facilities
AccommodationOn campus accommodationOn-campus accommodation, host family.
Tuition fee£13,000 - £19,000£21,000 - £29,000
One-to-one foundation, generally direct admission to the same school
(Academic assessment + in-school English)
Direct admission to the same school does not require re-taking the IELTS.
One-to-many, applying to five universities through UCAS
Academic assessment + need to retake the IELTS.
International studentAll students are international students, with a high proportion of international students. However, they can interact with undergraduate and graduate students.
All students are international students, with a high proportion of international students. 
Progression RateOn average, over 85%.Generally progress to a top 30 university.
Widespread university recognition★★★★★★★★
Course difficulty
Suitable for Which Type of StudentSuitable for students who have already chosen a preferred university and are independent in their learning and life.Requires more teacher attention and guidance for students who are unsure about their academic level and lack clear goals for university.

4. Why should one study a university foundation program (Foundation)?

what are the advantages of university foundation courses? Here, I would like to analyze the elements such as admission requirements, progression requirements, and course content of the foundation program.

The requirements to advance from a university foundation course to a university program are as follows.

  • Regardless of whether students are enrolled in "One to One Foundation" or "One to Many Foundation," as long as they achieve around 60% to 70% in their internal grades and meet the English requirements, they can advance to university. Obtaining high grades in the Foundation program is not difficult because, unlike the "one exam determines life or death" format of the DSE, Foundation grades are based on regular coursework (such as presentations, reports, essays, etc.), mid-term assessments, and final exams. The students' performance in regular coursework contributes to around 40% of the final grade, while the final exam contributes to approximately 60%. Therefore, as long as students do their homework, maintain good attendance, and prepare for regular assessments, they can achieve a certain score. Moreover, in case students do poorly in the mid-term or final exams, the school allows them to take a makeup exam.

4.2 The curriculum emphasizes students' preferred subjects.

Here I would also like to explain in detail the content of the Foundation program, so that you can understand how it helps students consolidate their foundational knowledge and adapt to the teaching methods in the UK, in order to smoothly transition to their desired university and thrive in their future university studies. During the 9-month duration of the Foundation program, students will simultaneously learn three things - foundational knowledge in their preferred university subjects, academic English, and university study skills:

When students enroll in the Foundation program, they will choose a pathway aligned with their desired field of study, such as business, humanities, engineering, arts, life sciences, etc.

Common pathways in UK university Foundation programs:

  • Architecture pathway
  • Art and design pathway
  • Business and accounting pathway
  • Humanities and social sciences pathway
  • Music and performing arts pathway
  • Economics and management pathway
  • Computer and engineering pathway
  • Media pathway
  • Life sciences pathway
  • Environmental science pathway

The establishment of these major pathways aims to eliminate the need for students to study subjects they do not enjoy or excel in. Instead, they can focus their time on studying the foundational knowledge of their desired university discipline. For example, if a student wants to study accounting in university, they would be classified as a student in the business and accounting pathway during their foundation studies. They would then need to study subjects such as accounting, economics, and mathematics, which are closely related to the field of business. Similarly, a student interested in studying law would be classified as a student in the humanities/law pathway and would need to study subjects such as politics, sociology, and economics, which are relevant to the study of law.

Pathway Modules
PathwayModule 1Module 2Module 3Module 4
Business & Management Studies (B&M)Introduction to Businessstatistics for social sciencesintroduction to economicsintroduction to financial accounting
Economics (E)Pure MathPure Math 2 introduction to economicsstatistics for economics
Social Sciences (SS)sociologystatistics for social sciencespolitical ideas concepts and practiceglobalisation
Society & Environment (S&E)sociologythe urban environmentpolitical ideas concepts and practiceglobalisation
Law & Society (L&S)sociologypolitical ideas concepts and practiceglobalisationlaw
University of Sheffield

Academic English

Some students are very resistant to the idea of studying abroad. Apart from not wanting to leave their comfort zone, most of it is due to lack of confidence in their English abilities and worrying about not being able to communicate with others in a foreign country. However, this fear is actually unfounded. The foundation program in universities is different from the traditional A-Level curriculum in boarding schools. If students are studying A-Levels, the classroom will have both local British students and international students, and teachers do not adjust their speaking speed based on individual international students. If a student's English foundation is not strong, it can be challenging to keep up with the purely English instruction.

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However, the foundation program in universities only admits international students, so the teachers' teaching speed and level will naturally be adjusted to match the level of the international students, making it easier for students to adapt. Additionally, the school will also divide classes based on students' English proficiency, allowing students with similar levels to study targeted academic English courses together. This avoids situations where student A is fluent in English but student B is weak in English. Academic English is a mandatory subject for every foundation student, and it helps international students quickly improve their English proficiency through listening, speaking, reading, and writing, in order to adapt to the fully English learning environment in the UK. This way, when they officially advance to the first year of university, they will not have trouble keeping up with the class progress.

University Study Skills

In fact, not only the educational policies between Thailand and England differ, but there are also significant differences in learning methods between secondary school and university. The so-called university study skills are actually designed to prepare secondary school students on how to study effectively before officially entering Year 1 of university. For example, in Foundation programs, teachers will instruct students on how to take notes in class, how to reference academic sources when writing essays, how to enhance their public speaking skills, and how to participate in simulated group discussions.

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Students and parents should not underestimate the importance of university study skills. I once had a student who successfully entered a university in England, but a few months later, their parents called for help. They said that the content of a certain report submitted by the student was very similar to information found on the internet, suggesting plagiarism. As a result, the entire assignment was not given any credit. Upon investigation, we discovered that the student did indeed reference internet sources while working on the assignment but failed to properly cite them, which significantly impacted their overall grade. This incident highlights the fact that if students lack the most basic university study skills, their academic performance in university may be affected to some extent.

5. How to choose a suitable school?

Since there are so many universities that offer foundation courses, what factors should be considered when choosing a suitable school? Here, I have listed some key points in the hope that students and parents can choose a desired school and greatly improve their chances of transitioning to university.

5.1 School's Transition Rate

The "school's transition rate" refers to the percentage of students from the "One to One Foundation" program who successfully transition to Year 1 in the same school. For example, if a school has a transition rate of 80%, and a class has 10 students, it means that 8 students can successfully transition to Year 1 in the same school. A higher transition rate indicates a greater chance of successful transition within the foundation program.

Many Thai students have a fixation on rankings, but when students have requirements for a school, the school naturally also has requirements for them. Generally, higher-ranked universities set higher academic and language requirements for student transitions, resulting in lower transition rates. Of course, there are also some variables in the transition rate. If a student has excellent grades, they can choose to apply to better schools. However, if their grades do not meet the requirements of their preferred school, they may opt for a lower-ranked university. Both situations can decrease the school's transition rate. Here, I have compiled the official 2018 transition rates from some popular universities that offer regular foundation programs. These rates are typically made publicly available by the universities.

QS Ranking*UniversityProgression Rate
29University of Manchester#61%
74Durham University79%
75University of Sheffield82%
82University of Nottingham87%
131Lancaster University81%
134University of York83%
141Newcastle University86%
154University of Exeter95%
164University of Liverpool80%
227University of Sussex96%
236Royal Holloway, University of London89%
248University of Surrey85%
269University of East Anglia (UEA)90%
*QS World University Ranking 2019 | #2016 Data

If students are interested in studying at higher-ranked universities, they can refer to this data and choose a foundation program with a higher school transition rate. This can greatly enhance their chances of advancing to their desired university.

5.2 Admission Requirements

Academic and English Requirements

  • As mentioned earlier, the admission requirements for most university foundation programs are not very high. However, each university has different rankings or positioning, so there will naturally be differences in the admission requirements set for students. No foundation program can guarantee that students will be able to directly enter the university 100% upon completion of the course. Therefore, students must assess their own abilities and choose a school that suits them reasonably. For example, taking the example of aspiring to study physiotherapy, the table below lists four popular foundation programs among Hong Kong students that can directly lead to the first year of a physiotherapy degree program, along with their progression requirements.
  • I believe everyone can clearly see that different schools have academic requirements ranging from 50% to 75%, with a difference of 25%. The total and individual scores required for English proficiency also vary. To be admitted to these foundation programs, students only need to achieve an overall IELTS score of 5.5-6.0 and an average of around 60% in Form 5. It's not difficult, right? But imagine if you are a student who just barely scored 5.5 in IELTS or consistently hovers around the passing mark in exams, would it be too challenging for you to meet the admission requirements of a school that requires 75% in academics or English? Students need to assess whether they can handle this challenge. If they don't have much confidence, choosing foundation programs with lower admission requirements will be easier to achieve.

Additional Admission Requirements

  • In addition to the regular academic and English requirements, students should also pay attention to any additional admission requirements. Generally, these additional requirements are common for subjects such as law, healthcare therapy, and architecture. For example, some universities require students to take the LNAT (The Law National Aptitude Test) in order to be admitted to the first year of the law program. Similarly, some universities require students to take the IELTS again or pass an interview after completing the foundation program in order to be admitted to occupational therapy or physiotherapy programs. Additionally, some universities require students to pass an interview or complete an aptitude test in order to be admitted to architecture programs. These additional admission requirements often contribute to the uncertainty of transferring to the desired program within the original school.

5.3 Differences in Modules for Study Subjects

Although the general directions of university foundation programs are often centered around business, humanities, engineering, arts, and health sciences, each school's foundation program may have some variations in the modules offered. Therefore, students should choose a foundation program that aligns with their interests and strengths in order to increase their chances of progressing to Year 1 at their original school.

– Specificity vs Generality

Although each foundation program has already divided into general directions, some schools offer subjects that are more specific to the chosen university discipline, while others offer more general subjects within that direction. For example, I had a student who wanted to study film studies at university and had to choose between the Foundation programs at the University of Sussex or the University of Essex. The required foundational knowledge subjects for these two Foundations were different: the Foundation program at the University of Sussex clearly focused more on film studies, while the Foundation program at the University of Essex required studying more general subjects within the "humanities" direction.

Film and Media
creative media technology : digital video (10 credits)
creative media technology : photography (10 credits)
global cinemas (10 credits)
media and communications (10 credits)
University of Sussex 升讀電影研究的Foundation所需修讀的科目
You will also need to take 3 of the following that best fit your degree and career goals
(For progression to some degrees, the university will require you to take particular modules
- contemporary global issues
- entrepreneurship
- historial perspectives
- logic, and critical thinking
- mathematics
- people, culture and society
- statistics
University of Essex

– Compulsory vs Elective

The subjects in university foundation programs can be either more specific or more general, and each university's foundation program may have some mandatory subjects that are optional in another school. Taking the foundation program for physiotherapy as an example, in order to pursue physiotherapy at the University of East Anglia, students must study chemistry as a mandatory subject in their foundation program. However, at the University of Liverpool, chemistry is an elective subject. Just imagine if a student has never studied chemistry before and suddenly they are required to study it in their foundation program. It would definitely have a certain impact on them.

All students study these modules to gain a solid base of skillsYou will also need to take 3 of the following that best fit your degree and career goals
(For progression to some degrees, the university will require you to take particular modules
- English for Academic Purposes - Biology
- Extended Project- Chemistry *
- Entrepreneurship
- Information Technology
- Intermediate Digital Applications
- Intermediate Mathematics
- Mathematics
- Physics
- Statistics
University of East Angelia

5.4 University Subjects and Future Development

Many Thai students focus on the overall ranking of universities and consider whether the university ranks highly in the UK or even worldwide, and whether it is a prestigious university. However, if students simply rely on rankings without closely aligning their future development direction with the university's academic disciplines, it would be very one-sided.

In the UK, the so-called "prestigious universities" refer to the 24 universities in the Russell Group. These 24 universities consistently rank within the top 200 in the world each year. The reason is that they receive over 65% of the research funding in the UK, which makes their research achievements particularly strong. Consequently, they naturally become the organization that produces the most Nobel Prize winners in the world.

University College London

The list of members of the Russell Group.

But in fact, research achievements are not closely related to the teaching of a Bachelor's degree because research is a matter of postgraduate schools. So if a student is studying pure science or humanities and has aspirations to continue studying for a Master's and PhD, then choosing a university from the Russell Group can indeed be helpful because you will learn some skills related to academic research. Additionally, if a student's future career requires a large network, such as being a lawyer or working in business, then a university from the Russell Group can also be beneficial because these universities have a long history and a strong alumni network.

However, if a student's goal is to work in specific professional fields such as design, hotel management, or subjects that require professional qualifications like occupational therapy, physical therapy, or nutrition, graduating from a university in the Russell Group is not necessarily a key factor. These professions focus more on practical experience, and when hotels recruit graduates, they are more interested in whether the student has interned at prestigious establishments like Shangri-La or Four Seasons, rather than whether they graduated from a prestigious university. Similarly, for occupational therapy or physical therapy, what matters is whether the graduate has the necessary professional qualifications.
So students should not let the name and ranking of a university influence their choices. "Prestige" does carry a certain weight, but what is more important is to consider your future development direction.

6. What if the university foundation program (Foundation) requirements are not met?

Although the average admission rate for Thai students to Foundation programs is over 85%, you may still worry about what happens if you happen to be one of the 15% who do not get admitted to their desired school. Here are some methods you can consider:

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6.1 Bridging to subjects with lower requirements in the desired school

Since each university Foundation program is divided into major directions, if a student's grades do not meet the requirements for the intended university subject, they can choose to transfer to other subjects within the same major direction that have lower requirements. For example, if you initially planned to study physical therapy, you can choose to transfer to occupational therapy; if you planned to study law, you can also choose to transfer to subjects such as sociology, criminology, which are in the same field as law.

6.2 Bridging to a slightly lower-ranked university

If a student's grades are not ideal, it indicates that there are weaknesses in their knowledge foundation. In such cases, bridging to a university with a slightly lower ranking than the original school will make it easier to adapt to the learning environment. For example, if you are studying in a Foundation program at a top 20 ranked university, you can use the grades from this Foundation program to apply for Year 1 at universities ranked beyond 20.

6.3 Bridging to International Year 1 (IY1)

Here, let me briefly explain what International Year 1 (IY1) is. The so-called International Year 1 (IY1) is similar to a university foundation program, designed specifically for international students. However, the difference is that IY1 is not about learning the foundational knowledge of university subjects but rather focuses on the content of the specific university subject chosen by the student. For example, if a student wants to pursue engineering, they will no longer study basic subjects like physics and mathematics as in a foundation program. Instead, they will study Year 1 content related to engineering mechanics, electromechanics, and so on. After completing IY1, the student will proceed to Year 2. In this case, the time spent by the student is identical to going from a foundation program to directly entering Year 1.

However, it is important for students to note that IY1 also requires meeting academic and English language proficiency standards in order to progress to the next level. Additionally, not all subjects can be bridged through the International Year 1 program. Generally, subject choices in IY1 are limited to business, engineering, psychology, architecture, international relations, media studies, law, and biology. If a student wishes to study subjects such as healthcare therapy or medicine, they cannot bridge through the International Year 1 (IY1) program.