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Overview of Higher Education

There are over 150 universities and higher education institutions in the UK for students to choose from. Watch this video to see some examples.

There are over 150 universities and higher education institutions in the UK for you to choose from and it’s important that you find the one which best suits your needs. These institutions vary considerably in appearance, depending on their history and the locations of their buildings, but generally fall into one of the three categories. Watch the video to find out more.

If you have not yet applied to a UK university, this PDF provides some information on English language and academic conditions.

Undergraduate degrees

After leaving school, most students going to university study for an undergraduate or first degree. A degree course is usually made up of modules (some compulsory, some optional) that add up to a full degree, called a bachelor’s degree.

There are other options too. Foundation degrees and diplomas are shorter courses and designed to develop your skills and subject-specific knowledge before you move into a full degree-level course.

A bachelor’s degree usually requires three years of study in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; in Scotland courses generally take four years. For some subjects, such as medicine, courses are longer.

For a bachelor’s degree, you can concentrate on a single subject, combine two subjects (joint honours) or choose several subjects (combined honours).


Depending on your course, and after your final examinations (finals), you’ll receive a bachelor’s degree, for example Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Engineering, Bachelor of Education (BEd), Bachelor of Law (LLB), Bachelor of Medicine (MB). The abbreviations are often used – you’ll hear people saying things like ‘I have a BA in History.’

We have given an indication of degree programme classifications in this PDF, however this differs between universities and you should always check the official guidance given by the university you are attending.

Post-graduate degrees

If you already have a first degree, you might be thinking of studying for a master’s degree (MA, MSc, LLM, etc.). A doctorate – the best known one is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) – is awarded in many different fields from the arts and humanities to the science disciplines. You can think of these as a ‘second’ degree and a ‘final’ degree respectively.

A master’s degree takes between one and two years; a doctorate will much take longer. In general, a master’s is more career-orientated, while a doctorate is for people preparing for research-orientated careers or in academia.

This PDF will provide you with additional information about the higher education system in the UK.

A lecturer with 2 students standing around a dressmakers mannequin draping fabric

Teaching methods

Teaching methods vary depending on the course and the university you choose, but most will include some or all of the following; lectures, seminars, tutorials, practical work, workplace training, independent study. These methods are discussed in detail during this course, but this PDF provides an overview.

A note on scholarships

Scholarships to study in the UK are available, but they are limited in number and there is a lot of competition for them. You should consider sources of scholarships from your own country as well as those available in the UK. Many scholarships from UK sources are aimed at student from specific programmes, or on specific courses, and are provided by a wide range of organisations.

These UKCISA webpages provide information about the different sources of scholarships.

You can also find more information about scholarships, funding and visas on the below British Council web pages:

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