Higher education in the UK

Studying at university

Studying at higher education in the United Kingdom always leads to degree level education. The UK boasts institutes that are amongst some of the best with Oxford and Cambridge universities being the first to come to mind when considering studying there.

Higher education in the UK

With 164 higher education institutions in the UK, students applying to go to university are given the choice and opportunity to study wherever they wish so long as they reach the entry requirements of their university offer.

Recently, it has become a more favorable option for students to move away from home to go and study for their degree. Nonetheless, in some universities, up to 50% of alumni stay at their familial home whilst studying. Unfortunately, studying at degree level in the UK is becoming more and more expensive with fees increasing year upon year. 

Types of degree

Before studying at a UK university, it is wise to be aware of the different types of degree as these may differ from your home country. There are various types of degrees which you can be awarded at higher education. However, you may only study at higher degree levels if you have the lower degree title first, this is a prerequisite for participating in higher education.

  • Bachelor’s (BAHons/ BSc) - A bachelor’s degree is the first degree which you can be awarded. Students may come directly from compulsory education to study at bachelor’s level or have been working/ taken a year out before starting. These types of degrees are usually 3 years in duration, though those with a placement year or year abroad will be 4 years long. Those studying medicine or dentistry can expect to complete their bachelor’s in as many as 6 years. 
  • Master’s (MA/ MSc) - A master’s degree can only be applied for if you have an undergraduate (bachelor's) degree in a similar field and have been awarded a grade of 2:2 or above. A master’s degree is usually only 1 or 2 years in length for full-time studies but can be longer if studied part-time. You can apply to study either a research or taught based master’s degree. 
  • Doctorate (PhD) - A doctorate is the highest level of degree in which you can receive. This degree level will usually take 3 to 4 years to complete full-time. It is a requirement to research and produce a new thesis in your field of study. Many students of doctorate degrees do not complete them by studying continuously but often take a year out and come back to their education as the age of a PhD student is usually upwards of 33 years old. 

Although these are the main levels of degree, degree titles can vary depending on the field in which you are studying. Above, ‘A’ stands for ‘of the arts’ and ‘Sc’ signifies ‘of science’, arts can cover all humanities subjects including history, literature and languages. There is an extensive list of degree titles but these will be visible next to the course title which you are searching for. 

Choosing a degree will require students to select a degree title of one to three subjects which will be studied in depth at the university. You can also select combinations of subjects from different faculties such as psychology and Spanish or history and media though more traditional combinations such as English and history are more popular. Unlike other countries, studying at a degree level requires you to specify what subjects you would like to learn instead of covering a general spectrum of topics. 

University funding

Fees to study at a British university are some of the highest in the world with the annual fee regularly being increased. The current fee, as of 2019, is at £9,250 ($11,556) for UK and EU students and can range from £10,000 to £38,000 ($12493 to $47,475) in some cases for international students, university and degree dependent. 

However, it is important to note that for Scottish and EU students looking to study at Scottish universities, education is free of charge. Students from Northern Ireland studying at university in their own country have tuition fees capped at £4,275 ($5,309). 

For home and most EU students, funding is available through Student Finance England . All students are entitled to a tuition fee loan which covers the cost of course fees and maintenance loans (these are to support living costs of students) are granted on a household income basis. This means a pupil's loan entitlement will rely on the amount that the student’s parents earn. As of this year, UK students can receive up to as much as £11,672 ($14,582) if living in London independently or £8,944 ($11,174) for those studying out of London. These rates change each year, luckily they often increase as opposed to decrease so check government websites when working out if you can afford to study at UK universities. Each year the government release the new funding entitlements. To know whether they have changed, you can check here 

Some parents may wish to pay the fees directly rather than accept government loans, this is also an option. 

For international students, UK funding is not available. To be awarded a student visa from non-EU countries, you will also be expected to have £1,015 in your bank account for every month you spend studying in the country.

Private universities

There are only 5 private universities in the UK at current, these are:

  • Regents University London
  • University of Buckingham
  • Richmond University
  • Arden University
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • GSM London

As there are only very few private universities in the UK, attending such institutions is not very popular amongst home students. Instead, they are sought after by international students where in Regent’s University alone, students from over 140 countries attend. Such universities are more likely to offer English language courses to those who do not speak fluent English. Private universities set their own fees so they can be found at their own respective websites. In some cases, private universities may be cheaper than state-funded ones. 

Applying to UK universities

Applications for universities in the UK are done via website UCAS . This website is used by all attending UK universities and can be used to search for courses, entry requirements and fees for individual institutions. The same process applies to all home, EU and international students so there are no discrepancies between applicants. 

Those applying will be required to enclose all previous qualification results, predicted results (applicable to those awaiting A levels or Scottish highers) as well as a personal statement. This personal statement will be limited to 4000 characters and should include your reasons for wanting to study the subjects you have selected as well as any relevant experience you may have which might add to what makes you the ideal candidate. You will be able to choose up to 5 universities when applying for bachelor’s degrees and there is a small fee of around £20 ($25) to use the website. Those applying for higher degree titles will pay approximately £50 ($62) per university applied for. 

UCAS has a very strict deadline system so make sure you have applied according to the relevant deadlines (those wanting to attend Oxford or Cambridge universities will need to apply earlier than others). UCAS deadlines can be located here 

After the date of application, you can expect to wait a few months to receive offers from your chosen universities. Upon receiving your offer of placement, you will be given a conditional or unconditional offer. What this means is that you will have a place at the university in the event that you achieve (or have) the grades stated; unconditional offers mean that whatever happens, you have a place to study there. You will be able to select a firm choice and an insurance choice from your offers. Some universities, particularly Oxbridge (when speaking of Oxford and Cambridge together they are referred to as this), require an interview for competitive courses which you must attend to be considered. For more niche course options, this is not usually compulsory. As for the interview process, many universities will recognise that for international students, attending is not feasible. However highly sought after subjects at Oxford and Cambridge may insist on attendance to interviews. 

On results day, if your course is grade dependent, you will either be accepted or rejected by your chosen university. Those who have not secured a place are given the option to pursue other routes or to call the universities directly to discuss their options. 

University life

For many students, there is the offer to live in campus accommodation. This consists of dormitory rooms per student with shared facilities up to around 10 students per flat. The less students assigned per flat, the higher the cost of the accommodation. Still, ensuite bedrooms are available and usually very popular. Other students may prefer to find housing independently, this is common for international students where parents pay for their rent. Those looking for a larger social circle often choose university halls due to the better possibilities of meeting other students. 

University in the UK typically consists of lectures and seminars where learning material is distributed and then discussed in classes. To be graded, you will submit various assignments throughout the year. University grading in the UK is done via a percentage system. Students can be awarded a first class honours (70% and above), second class honours (50-70%) and third class honours (40-50%). Although 70% can seem a low figure for the highest grades, that is not to say it is an easy achievement. Just over one quarter of university students graduate with a first class degree. Achieving below 40% equates to a non pass grade. 

Class schedules vary from course content and university so contact the course provider for better details on how many contact hours you will receive weekly.

With 164 higher education institutions in the UK, students applying to go to university are given the choice and opportunity to study wherever they wish so long as they reach the entry requirements of their university offer.

Recently, it has become a more favorable option for students to move away from home to go and study for their degree. Nonetheless, in some universities, up to 50% of alumni stay at their familial home whilst studying. Unfortunately, studying at degree level in the UK is becoming more and more expensive with fees increasing year upon year. 

Types of degree

Before studying at a UK university, it is wise to be aware of the different types of degree as these may differ from your home country. There are various types of degrees which you can be awarded at higher education. However, you may only study at higher degree levels if you have the lower degree title first, this is a prerequisite for participating in higher education.

  • Bachelor’s (BAHons/ BSc) - A bachelor’s degree is the first degree which you can be awarded. Students may come directly from compulsory education to study at bachelor’s level or have been working/ taken a year out before starting. These types of degrees are usually 3 years in duration, though those with a placement year or year abroad will be 4 years long. Those studying medicine or dentistry can expect to complete their bachelor’s in as many as 6 years. 
  • Master’s (MA/ MSc) - A master’s degree can only be applied for if you have an undergraduate (bachelor's) degree in a similar field and have been awarded a grade of 2:2 or above. A master’s degree is usually only 1 or 2 years in length for full-time studies but can be longer if studied part-time. You can apply to study either a research or taught based master’s degree. 
  • Doctorate (PhD) - A doctorate is the highest level of degree in which you can receive. This degree level will usually take 3 to 4 years to complete full-time. It is a requirement to research and produce a new thesis in your field of study. Many students of doctorate degrees do not complete them by studying continuously but often take a year out and come back to their education as the age of a PhD student is usually upwards of 33 years old. 

Although these are the main levels of degree, degree titles can vary depending on the field in which you are studying. Above, ‘A’ stands for ‘of the arts’ and ‘Sc’ signifies ‘of science’, arts can cover all humanities subjects including history, literature and languages. There is an extensive list of degree titles but these will be visible next to the course title which you are searching for. 

Choosing a degree will require students to select a degree title of one to three subjects which will be studied in depth at the university. You can also select combinations of subjects from different faculties such as psychology and Spanish or history and media though more traditional combinations such as English and history are more popular. Unlike other countries, studying at a degree level requires you to specify what subjects you would like to learn instead of covering a general spectrum of topics. 

University funding

Fees to study at a British university are some of the highest in the world with the annual fee regularly being increased. The current fee, as of 2019, is at £9,250 ($11,556) for UK and EU students and can range from £10,000 to £38,000 ($12493 to $47,475) in some cases for international students, university and degree dependent. 

However, it is important to note that for Scottish and EU students looking to study at Scottish universities, education is free of charge. Students from Northern Ireland studying at university in their own country have tuition fees capped at £4,275 ($5,309). 

For home and most EU students, funding is available through Student Finance England . All students are entitled to a tuition fee loan which covers the cost of course fees and maintenance loans (these are to support living costs of students) are granted on a household income basis. This means a pupil's loan entitlement will rely on the amount that the student’s parents earn. As of this year, UK students can receive up to as much as £11,672 ($14,582) if living in London independently or £8,944 ($11,174) for those studying out of London. These rates change each year, luckily they often increase as opposed to decrease so check government websites when working out if you can afford to study at UK universities. Each year the government release the new funding entitlements. To know whether they have changed, you can check here 

Some parents may wish to pay the fees directly rather than accept government loans, this is also an option. 

For international students, UK funding is not available. To be awarded a student visa from non-EU countries, you will also be expected to have £1,015 in your bank account for every month you spend studying in the country.

Private universities

There are only 5 private universities in the UK at current, these are:

  • Regents University London
  • University of Buckingham
  • Richmond University
  • Arden University
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • GSM London

As there are only very few private universities in the UK, attending such institutions is not very popular amongst home students. Instead, they are sought after by international students where in Regent’s University alone, students from over 140 countries attend. Such universities are more likely to offer English language courses to those who do not speak fluent English. Private universities set their own fees so they can be found at their own respective websites. In some cases, private universities may be cheaper than state-funded ones. 

Applying to UK universities

Applications for universities in the UK are done via website UCAS . This website is used by all attending UK universities and can be used to search for courses, entry requirements and fees for individual institutions. The same process applies to all home, EU and international students so there are no discrepancies between applicants. 

Those applying will be required to enclose all previous qualification results, predicted results (applicable to those awaiting A levels or Scottish highers) as well as a personal statement. This personal statement will be limited to 4000 characters and should include your reasons for wanting to study the subjects you have selected as well as any relevant experience you may have which might add to what makes you the ideal candidate. You will be able to choose up to 5 universities when applying for bachelor’s degrees and there is a small fee of around £20 ($25) to use the website. Those applying for higher degree titles will pay approximately £50 ($62) per university applied for. 

UCAS has a very strict deadline system so make sure you have applied according to the relevant deadlines (those wanting to attend Oxford or Cambridge universities will need to apply earlier than others). UCAS deadlines can be located here 

After the date of application, you can expect to wait a few months to receive offers from your chosen universities. Upon receiving your offer of placement, you will be given a conditional or unconditional offer. What this means is that you will have a place at the university in the event that you achieve (or have) the grades stated; unconditional offers mean that whatever happens, you have a place to study there. You will be able to select a firm choice and an insurance choice from your offers. Some universities, particularly Oxbridge (when speaking of Oxford and Cambridge together they are referred to as this), require an interview for competitive courses which you must attend to be considered. For more niche course options, this is not usually compulsory. As for the interview process, many universities will recognise that for international students, attending is not feasible. However highly sought after subjects at Oxford and Cambridge may insist on attendance to interviews. 

On results day, if your course is grade dependent, you will either be accepted or rejected by your chosen university. Those who have not secured a place are given the option to pursue other routes or to call the universities directly to discuss their options. 

University life

For many students, there is the offer to live in campus accommodation. This consists of dormitory rooms per student with shared facilities up to around 10 students per flat. The less students assigned per flat, the higher the cost of the accommodation. Still, ensuite bedrooms are available and usually very popular. Other students may prefer to find housing independently, this is common for international students where parents pay for their rent. Those looking for a larger social circle often choose university halls due to the better possibilities of meeting other students. 

University in the UK typically consists of lectures and seminars where learning material is distributed and then discussed in classes. To be graded, you will submit various assignments throughout the year. University grading in the UK is done via a percentage system. Students can be awarded a first class honours (70% and above), second class honours (50-70%) and third class honours (40-50%). Although 70% can seem a low figure for the highest grades, that is not to say it is an easy achievement. Just over one quarter of university students graduate with a first class degree. Achieving below 40% equates to a non pass grade. 

Class schedules vary from course content and university so contact the course provider for better details on how many contact hours you will receive weekly.

Further reading

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