Blog 🍎 School 10th November 2021

The Essential Guide to Foundation Years & International Year Ones

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James Leach

James is senior content marketing manager at BridgeU. He writes and directs content for BridgeU's university partners and our community of international schools

Foundation Years and International Year Ones both transition international students into higher education, but many of us aren’t very familiar with them! In this article, we look at both options, how they’re different and whether they’re right for your students.

Foundation Years and International Year Ones are great introductory programmes for international students, offering a smoother transition into higher education and all the changes it brings – particularly in a foreign country.

There are all kinds of reasons why a student might opt for these lesser-known paths, from a desire to hone their academic skills to a rethink of their chosen career path – and plenty of things in between.

To be able to advise all of your students about the options available, it’s important to understand these two related – but quite different – pathways to undergraduate degrees.

In this article, we’ll take a look at Foundation Years and International Year Ones, thinking about what distinguishes the two and which students each might be a good fit for.

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What is a Foundation Year?

Broadly speaking, Foundation Years are an additional stepping stone between secondary school and higher education. They combine subject-specific content with more general skills – like independent study, research, and academic English – to ensure students are fully prepared for the demands of higher education.

While English language can be a big component of Foundation Years, it doesn’t need to be if students already have a good level of English. In fact, Foundation Years are popular with domestic students as well as international ones! Much of the focus is on more general academic training.

Luckily, there is quite a range of Foundation Years available which combine these areas in different proportions. Some focus heavily on subject-specific material, while others fall all the way on the other side of the spectrum and teach solely language skills. Whatever your students’ needs or gaps of knowledge, they’ll be able to find a suitable Foundation Year.

What is an International Year One?

The essential definition: International Year Ones are a direct route onto the second year of some undergraduate degrees at UK universities.

They have a lot in common with Foundation Years: they offer a less-standard pathway into undergraduate degrees; they combine subject-specific material with more generally introductory content, like academic English and research skills; and they’re offered both by universities and independent providers.

However, there are also some key differences between International Year Ones and Foundation Years:

  • International Year ones replace the first year of a Bachelor’s degree, rather than being an add-on introductory year which is followed by the full degree, as is the case with Foundation Years.
  • International Year Ones are only available for entry to UK universities.
  • International Year Ones are much less widely available than Foundation Years, even within the UK.
  • International Year Ones are a newer pathway than the more established Foundation Years.
  • As the name suggests, International Year Ones are solely for international students.

Note: There are also International Year Ones with internships built in, giving students the chance to gain professional experience as well as academic know-how.

How long do Foundation Years and International Year Ones last?

This probably sounds like a bizarre question. Isn’t the duration right there in their names?

While for the most part Foundation Years and International Year Ones do last one academic year, there are often exceptions, with the duration typically depending on the student’s level of English.

Take, for example, a Foundation Certificate for Business, Law and Social Sciences at Kaplan International College, which feeds into a Bachelor’s degree at Aston University. Students with IELTS 5.5. (scoring at least 4.5 in all skills) could start the foundation course in May and proceed to the actual degree by that September. Those whose IELTS score is 4.0, on the other hand, would commence their Foundation Year in July of one year and continue on until August of the following year, to then begin their Bachelor’s degree in September.

What are the benefits of Foundation Years and International Year Ones?

Foundation Years and International Year Ones bring a whole host of benefits for students. Some are quite clear: they impart the key skills and knowledge needed to hit the ground running as students begin their Bachelor’s degrees.

There are a few other practical benefits of studying Foundation Years or International Year Ones, though.

They allow students to get used to new academic styles

Both options give students an opportunity to get to grips with academic approaches within a less familiar culture. As you know, things like modes of teaching, classroom etiquette and theoretical approaches can vary greatly between different countries!

If they’re nervous about the demands of higher education more generally – even if the cultural distinction isn’t a major concern – these programmes are a great introduction.

Similarly, if students are worried that their subject knowledge isn’t great (perhaps it’s an area that isn’t offered at your secondary school), then both Foundation Years and International Year Ones offer a chance to cover some basic aspects in a slightly lower-pressure environment.

They offer a direct route to an undergraduate degree

What might be particularly compelling to your students is the fact that both qualifications can offer a direct pathway into degree programmes.

As we mentioned earlier, those run by universities themselves tend to be integrated into a degree, meaning that upon their successful completion students pass directly into either the first or second year of the Bachelor’s programme (depending on if they’ve taken the Foundation Year or International Year One route).

And although not all Foundation Years are connected to one particular degree, many of those run by private providers in partnership with universities also guarantee a place on a full Bachelor’s degree once students pass the Foundation Year – often without having to go through application processes. That saves a lot of time, stress and effort!

Note: For some Bachelor’s degrees, some form of application will still be necessary after completing the Foundation Year, and some aren’t tied to any degree at all. In those cases, students would need to go through the usual application e.g. for UK universities, the full UCAS process.

The entry requirements are lower

Particularly with Foundation Years, these types of programmes tend to have lower entry requirements, making them a good option for students who may not have achieved the grades they were expecting.

They can smooth the transition to life abroad

Because Foundation Years and International Year ones are so popular with international students (and sometimes cater solely to them), they can include a higher level of pastoral support, helping students through the lifestyle and cultural transitions they’ll experience as well as the academic ones.

Some providers even offer on-campus accommodation and dedicated help with study visas, bank accounts, healthcare and more.

I’ve had some wonderful teachers and picked up some really important skills for study, particularly relating to essay preparation. I feel like I have adapted to new ways of approaching academic tasks, and feel ready for my university degree.” 

Daniel from Brazil: Foundation Certificate student at Liverpool International College

How can students decide between International Year Ones and Foundation Years?

Deciding between these two great options can be tricky. But there are certain criteria that would make students more suited for one or the other.

In particular, students for whom entry requirements are the biggest obstacle to their dream course should definitely look at Foundation Years.

This applies to students who might be coming up short for a range of reasons:

  • They didn’t score highly enough on their final assessments (A-Levels, IB etc)
  • Their qualifications aren’t accepted by the institution
  • They didn’t study the subjects required for the degree

On the other hand, International Year Ones are a great option for students who are keen to build up an international community, or who are particularly worried about cultural and lifestyle changes. After all, one of their defining characteristics is its international underpinning, and only international students take these courses.

Another group that should definitely have International Year Ones on their radar are students who are interested in Foundation Years, but also looking to keep costs down and/or graduate ASAP. Because International Year Ones replace the first year of the degree, one whole year’s worth of tuition fees is saved!

International Year Ones also tend to have even smaller class sizes than Foundation Years, because they’re limited to a particular university, and further limited to just international students. Students looking for intimate learning experiences, or wary of diving straight into huge lectures, might prefer the International Year One route.

My pathway course is very personalised. There is a small number of students in classes, so you can have more direct contact with the teachers. For people starting. it’s a really good place to be.

Kavita from India: IYO student at Nottingham Trent International College

Where can students take Foundation Years or International Year Ones?

Foundation Years are most common in the UK, where they can be found in a vast array of universities and other private colleges and institutions. There are also lots of Foundation Years available in Australia, and the USA provides some transitional courses for international students, too.

Some Foundation Years are provided directly by a university, and often integrated into the full Bachelor’s degree as an optional add-on.

Others are delivered by private providers like Kaplan, sometimes in partnership with universities to a greater or lesser extent. Some are run directly with universities, are often delivered on the campus, develop their curricula in line with what students would study there, and guarantee entry onto one of its degrees.

There are also more general Foundation Years that prepare students for degree-level study at a range of universities, and don’t necessarily feed into any of them directly.

International Year Ones, as we mentioned earlier, are exclusive to the UK. When it comes to providers, the same is broadly true as with Foundation Years, but it’s far, far more common for International Year Ones to be delivered directly within universities. After all, they’re a solid part (a third, in fact) of a specific degree!

As we mentioned, International Year Ones are much less common than Foundation Years. Nevertheless, they are available at a good range of universities across the UK. A few examples include:

  • University of Aberdeen
  • Bournemouth University
  • Kingston University, London
  • Liverpool John Moores University
  • Nottingham Trent University
  • Newcastle University
  • Queen’s University, Belfast
  • University of the West of England, Bristol

There are also larger private colleges offering International Year Ones from which students can progress onto a range of universities, like INTO London World Education Centre and INTO Manchester.

The teaching style at the College is great and they help us a lot here… My pathway course has really made me feel ready for university.

Mustapha from Nigeria: IYO student and UWE Bristol’s International College

What subjects can students take Foundation Years & International Year Ones in?

As we touched on earlier, there is a good amount of variety in Foundation Years and International Year Ones available. In the case of Foundation Years, they even run the gambit from courses dedicated entirely to smoothing the transition into a new social, academic and linguistic environment, to very academically focused ones.

Subjects available as Foundation Years

In terms of Foundation Years with more academic focuses, the most popular and widely available are related to:

  • Business/finance/accounting
  • Social sciences
  • Law
  • Science and engineering
  • Art and design

Often, Foundation Years combine these areas into broader umbrellas. For example, SOAS University of London offers two Foundation Year options:

  • BA / BSc Social Sciences, Arts & Humanities with Foundation Year
  • BA / BSc Business, Management, Economics & Law with Foundation Year

Because of their wide availability and often broad scope, students hoping to study almost any subject can find a suitable Foundation Year. In fact, institutions like Nottingham University explicitly state that the majority of their undergraduate courses can be accessed by a Foundation Year!

There are even Foundation Years available for prestigious and competitive subjects like veterinary medicine.

Subjects available as International Year Ones

As with Foundation Years, there are International Year One options for almost all of your students, whatever field they want to specialise in at university.

That being said, they do tend to be slightly narrower in focus, as they form part of a specific degree programme.

Some of the most popular degrees with International Year One entry are:

  • Architecture
  • Business
  • Computing
  • Engineering
  • Hospitality and tourism
  • Law
  • Life sciences
  • Politics
  • Psychology

How can students apply to a Foundation Year or an International Year One?

Each Foundation Year and International Year One programme sets its own application process, meaning they can’t usually be accessed through centralised platforms like UCAS or Common App.

Students should check requirements for each course they’re interested in. They could research different Foundation Years and International Year Ones, make their shortlist and then check the website and instructions for each provider.

Although that might sound like a lot of work, don’t forget that it often negates the need for an additional application to the Bachelor’s degree!

And there’s more good news. Within the next few months, students will be able to research and apply for Foundation Years and International Year Ones using BridgeU Apply! It will be their one-stop application portal, making the whole process infinitely easier, simpler and more efficient.

Help students find & apply to Foundation Years & International Year Ones

Whatever study path your students are considering, there is lots of support you can give,  including tools that provide the information and guidance they need.

The most powerful tool available is, fortunately, also completely free: the BridgeU platform.

With it, students can research and compare Foundation Years, International Year Ones and countless other programmes across over 28,000 global universities. They can use our intelligent matching to shortlist options, and our application-building tools to compose the strongest possible submissions.

Soon, students will be able to send their full applications for Foundation Years and International Year Ones all from within the platform. That avoids anything getting lost or forgotten, and simplifies the whole process.

They’re helped even further by how much the platform can streamline your role, allowing you to oversee and edit applications through every stage and for every student.

Learn more by booking your free BridgeU demo below.

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