International Pathway Programmes to British Universities
International Pathway Programmes to British Universities

Foundations, Diplomas and Pre-Master programmes for international students

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Foundation Programmes

This page is about international pathway programmes such as foundations, diplomas, and pre-masters. These are all suitable for international students only.

There is also a completely different type of FP for both UK, EU and International students, which is generally a one year course in Art & Design with entry to an Art College on completion. There are also variants in Drama which end up with a RADA Certificate and entry to Drama or Stage School. Similarly a Music Composition or Music Technology FP can facilitate entry to a music academy, conservatoire or directly to a career in the music industry. These types of FPs can often be combined with conventional A Level studies. Complete an Enquiry Form if you are interested in this type of curriculum, or download our eGuide on How to get into Art School

International Pathway Programmes 

International pathway programmes are courses designed for international students to progress into British universities.

There are three different levels available:

  • International Foundation Programme (IFP) (NQF Level 3: Equivalent to A-levels, or “Year 0” of an undergraduate degree)
  • International Diploma / International Year One (NQF Level 4: Equivalent to Year 1 of an undergraduate degree)
  • Pre-Masters Programme (NQF Level 6: Essentially a top-up for someone who has already completed an undergraduate degree.)

It is usually easy enough to figure out which level you require, though here is a further explanation on each.

International Foundation Programme (IFP)

The British school system consists of 13 years in total. In contrast, most non-EU countries only have a 12 year system. British universities therefore require international students to undertake extra study before qualifying for entry. Students have a few options:

  • Study a two year A-level, BTEC, or IB Diploma course at a UK school or 6th form college
  • Study a (usually 3 term/1 year) IFP at a college or university campus.

The 2 year academic programmes offer a broader range of study, and are fully accepted by ALL universities. In contrast, IFPs will limit study to just one subject pathway (Business, Engineering, Science, Humanities etc.) and are almost never accepted by the elite universities. If you wish to progress to a top 5 university, then you should not take a foundation programme.

IFP: Where can you study?

Many awarding bodies operate globally, so students can often take a foundation in a local overseas college, before progressing to the first year in a UK university. However, this option does not offer students a chance to adapt to the British way of learning, and the course delivery (teaching quality, student resources etc.) can sometimes be of questionable quality. It is also worth noting that such IFPs may have limited progression options (i.e. a limited number of universities recognise and accept the qualification.) Whilst it is usually a cheaper option, studying an IFP overseas may not always produce the best academic outcomes.

In the UK, there are two main types of institutions where you can take an IFP: An FE/private 6th form college, or an on-campus international study centre at a host university. Here are the main differences:

IFP at an FE or 6th form college - Key points

  • Located in colleges of varying quality around the UK
  • A range of pathway subjects are offered. Students take just one option (e.g a Business pathway.)
  • Suitable for students aged 16.5+ who have completed high school in their home country.
  • IELTS requirements are usually 5.0+. Some colleges offer a term of English preparation for students with lower IELTs scores.
  • Some IFPs are recognised by 80+ universities, others are recognised by fewer than 30 universities. Not all IFPs are equal. 
  • Students will apply to a range of universities through UCAS, and most colleges support students with advice during this process.
  • Success rates can vary widely. In some cases 90%+ of students complete the course and go on to university in the UK. In other cases less than half of students manage to even complete the course.

IFP on a university campus – Key points

  • Located in universities around the UK.
  • Some are run independently by the university, others have joint ventures with private education providers.
  • Students study on campus (in most cases) and are considered full university students.
  • Accommodation is provided on the university campus, again, in most cases.
  • Students usually study in an international centre, in classes of only international students.
  • Progression to the host university is guaranteed, providing you meet the progression grade requirements. The higher-ranked universities usually have higher progression requirements, so always keep in mind that NOTHING is completely “guaranteed.”

Main benefits of an IFP

  • Shorter (so often cheaper) study duration.
  • Focussed study on one specific subject.
  • Usually have lower entry requirements than A-levels/IB etc
  • English language supportand IELTs preparation is usually included.
  • Termly checks on your progress (on most courses.)
  • FE and 6th form colleges provide the potential to progress onto a wide range of universities (more choice.)
  • University IFPs are often (but not always) developed to meet the subject nuances of the host university.
  • “Guaranteed” progression at the host university (providing you achieve the required progression grades!)
  • Teachers with expert experience of helping international students adapt to life in the UK.
  • A good chance to acclimatise to life in the UK before undergraduate studies.

Main risks of an IFP

  • The short timescale can increase your chances of failure/non-progression. You must hit the ground running. 
  • Some IFPs have very limited progression options: Either in choice of university, or choice of subject within that university. Check carefully. 
  • Many students choose an on-campus IFP because the university has a high ranking. It is important to remember that you may not meet the high progression requirements: Just because you start in a certain university does not mean you will progress there. Also, you may arrive and find that you don’t like the location or ethos of the university, but you are locked in to spend a total of 4 years somewhere you don’t want to be. Sometimes it is better to keep your options open and explore university choice whilst you are studying in an FE or 6th form college.
  • To repeat the point: Most IFPs taken at universities are non-transferrable. That is to say, you have no option to progress from your IFP to a different university: You are usually locked in to the same university pathway for 4 years in total.
  • The nationality mix may not be very varied! You may find that one or two nationalities dominate.
  • The UKVI has increased its restrictions on some colleges offering visas for foundation programmes. It is essential to check which type of visa a college/university will issue you, and seek professional advice on the visa and financial implications if you fail the course.

IFP Summary

If you qualify, IFPs can be a good alternative to A-levels if students want to save time and money. There are, however, certain pitfalls and restrictions you must be aware of before proceeding.

Please call us on +44 1622 813879 for 100% impartial advice on your options, or complete an enquiry form.


International Diploma / International Year One

These courses are similar in concept to an IFP. The key difference is that they are a level above the foundation, i.e. equivalent to the first year of a university degree.

Whereas an IFP leads to year 1 of an undergraduate degree, an International Diploma is designed to lead to year 2 of an undergraduate degree.

These courses are also similar to the IFPs, in that they offer a specific pathway (Business, Engineering etc.) They are available in a limited number of 6th form colleges, but are most prominent in universities, where they are usually taught by a private education provider in partnership with the host university.

International Diploma – Key points

  • Fewer colleges and universities provide this than provide an IFP
  • Suitable for students who did not get the required UCAS points or IELTs score to progress directly on to an undergraduate first year.
  • These courses are also suitable for students who want a softer landing in university: There is more teacher contact time, language support, and study skill support, arguably giving students a more supportive environment and greater chance of success.
  • Progression options can be more limited than IFPs. Fewer universities recognise and accept these courses from private colleges. The on-campus university courses will also have a limited number of year 2 degrees students can progress onto.
  • Again, progression grade requirements can vary from course to course.

International Diploma Summary

An International Diploma is a great alternative to the UCAS clearing lottery, and students can receive advanced "back-up" offers outside of the UCAS system. It is particularly useful if you are concerned you will not meet the requirements for your conditional university offers. 

Complete an enquiry form and we will contact you to help.


Pre-Masters Programmes

Finally, these courses are again available at colleges and universities around the UK. In most cases, you will need to have completed a degree in your home country to take one of these courses.

A Pre-Masters programme is most suitable for students who:

  • Have an undergraduate degree from a country that is not recognised as equivalent to a UK undergraduate degree.
  • Got a low grade in their undergraduate degree, and therefore do not meet the entry requirements for direct entry onto a Masters degree.
  • Wish to study a Masters degree that has no relation to their undergraduate degree.
  • Require extra English language training before pursuing their Masters degree.

The nuances and pitfalls you need to consider are similar to those required when selecting an IFP or Diploma programme.

Pre-masters Summary

It is often difficult to even know whether or not you require such a course. Please call us, email, or complete an enquiry form, and we will advise you further.

+44 1622 813870

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