UK Higher Education System

Higher Education in the UK involves the final and highest phase of education.

Higher education providers are most frequently known as universities, but may also include private education providers and colleges, as well as other types of publicly and privately funded institutes.

Courses and degrees are usually aligned to two levels:

  • Undergraduate (Bachelor Awards, BA, BSc – pitched at Level 6 of the National Qualifications Framework for England, Wales and Northern Ireland)
  • Postgraduate (e.g. Master of Art, MA; Master of Science, MSc; Master of Education, MEd;

Certificate of Education, PGCE; Diploma, PGDip Master of Philosophy, MPhil – all pitched at Level 7)

The highest available award is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), which is a research-based degree pitched at Level 8.

Most students start Higher Education at the age of 18, studying for an undergraduate degree. The average Bachelor’s award usually takes three years to complete, although some incorporate or have an option for a fourth year. Tuition fees are currently capped at £9,250 per year for British and EU students, whereas fees for international students are likely to be significantly higher, sometimes reaching £30,000 per year or more.

Undergraduate courses are focused on the acquisition of knowledge, the development of critical thinking skills, and – particularly for technically- oriented programmes – work related skills. On graduation from their first degree, many students continue their studies enrolling in a postgraduate programme. The average postgraduate programme usually lasts one year, although longer courses are also on offer.

Such programmes emphasise research and critical thinking: the student is considered an advanced learner, capable of pursuing their study and research interests independently and creatively. Postgraduate tuition fees for British and EU students are usually in the region of £6,000 per year, but they may also be significantly higher. Fees for international students usually exceed £10,000.

In 2021/22, more than 2.8 million students were enrolled on undergraduate courses, while more than half a million were studying for postgraduate qualifications. Read more on Higher Education Statistics Agency's report.

Additional information

For further information on studying and on international student recruitment in the UK, please refer to the following sources: