English competency
International students can now apply to UK universities without having to submit their IELTS score. Source: Damien Meyer/AFP

UK universities typically require international students to submit proof of their English competency, most commonly through popular English language tests like the IELTS. However, there are some universities that have made this optional or that offer an alternative admission test for students.

In recent years, English proficiency tests have grown unpopular among some international students, particularly those who come from English speaking backgrounds, to be considered for admission in universities where English is the language of instruction.

Much of the furore surrounding mandatory English competency exams is due to the unreasonable fees charged for a single test, while there is also a validity date. Once it expires, the test scores cannot be used for future applications, and students have to retake the exam even if they did well the first time.

Alternatively, students whose English competency is not yet up to scratch for their degree programme may want to consider enrolling in a university’s pre-sessional English course to prepare to study at their UK university. Pre-sessional English courses aim to help you prepare for your chosen degree.

International students can opt to enrol in intensive English or pre-sessional English courses to improve their mastery of the English language

Pre-sessional English courses are among the most common pathways for international students to improve their English proficiency required to undertake most study programmes in UK universities. Source: Philippe Desmazes/AFP

What are some IELTS alternatives to measure students’ English competency?

Some UK universities have introduced alternative measures to assess the English competency of international students. These could include:

  1. English score obtained in high school exams: Achieving at least 70% in your senior year English exam in high school. Some universities may accept your English score obtained in either Grade 10 or 12, with a minimum requirement of 75%.
  2. Medium of instruction: Submit proof that English is the medium of instruction in your prior school and your IELTS score may be waived.
  3. Online interview: University representatives may conduct an online interview session with you to gauge your English compatibility before considering you for admission to your selected programme.
  4. University-specific admission tests: A university may request that international students take their own English proficiency test to satisfy the English requirements for specific programmes at their university.
  5. Prior English-based courses: Some universities may waive IELTS requirements if you have achieved above-average grades in English-taught courses, taken for one or two years.
  6. Pre-sessional English courses: UK universities may offer international students an alternative pathway into a diploma or degree courses, through intensive English courses or pre-sessional English courses. These pathway programmes equip international students with the language comprehension to handle most English-taught courses at selected UK universities.

Some universities may scrap the English competency test if you hold a degree from a UK university.

Which UK universities can you apply to without IELTS?

If you’re looking to improve your English competency in order to meet your university’s entry requirements, here are some UK universities that offer pre-sessional English courses. Some allow students to enrol in their degree programmes without IELTS upon successful completion of the course.

1. Robert Gordon University (RGU)

This university is based in Aberdeen, Scotland provides a pre-sessional English programme held over the summer months.

For students who have not met the required level of English to commence their programme of choice, they can choose between a five, 10 or 15-week intensive English course to improve their language comprehension and academic skills.

2. University of Essex

The University of Essex offers a range of Pre-Sessional English Language (PSE) courses. Its website notes: “If you join a UEIC Pre-Sessional English programme you will take Kaplan’s own English language test at the end of the course.

“If you successfully pass this, the university will remove the English language condition from your main course offer. You will not be required to take another independent English language test such as IELTS, TOEFL or Pearson.”

3. Sheffield Hallam University 

Students who have not met the English requirements required to pursue most programmes can enrol in one of the English courses offered at the University’s TESOL centre. This helps prepare students to grasp and demonstrate the English-language competency needed to join most of the programmes at the university.

4. University of Warwick 

If you’re an academically competitive student who has the academic capability to study at a top 10 university in the UK but does not meet the English-language requirements, the University of Warwick provides pre-sessional English courses to help you get into your programme of choice. The university notes that there is no formal award for these courses, but successful completion of the course will allow you to meet the English language condition of your offer.

If you’re applying for postgraduate admissions, Warwick notes the following: “If you have been educated entirely in English for at least one year within the two years immediately preceding the course start date, then you may provide written evidence of this with your application in the place of an English Language certificate. Some departments may still require an English language certificate in addition to this.”

5. Birmingham City University 

Birmingham City University’s Pre-sessional English and Academic Skills courses in 2022 will be delivered on-campus and online. It will help you to meet the minimum language entry requirements of your chosen degree.

“If you have a UK bachelor degree or an equivalent qualification that was studied in a majority English speaking country, you will not be required to hold one of these English language qualifications,” said the university.

I have met the English-language proficiency. Am I all set to study in the UK? 

The short answer is: no. There are many application processes and qualifications required to be admitted into UK universities. Among them, you must ensure that you have:

  • Shortlisted the courses or universities of your choice
  • Taken note of all the important deadlines of submission
  • Fulfilled the entrance test requirements for your specified university
  • Sorted out and compiled your student visa and university application documents
  • Applied for a UK student visa and adhere to guidelines stated in your student visa