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Higher education in the UK

The UK higher education system is renowned throughout the world. Thanks to its unique programmes, modern teaching methodologies and competent teaching staff, the highest ranked universities are located in Britain. Many outstanding personalities such as Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Alan Turing, Mahatma Gandhi, Christopher Nolan and others were educated in Britain. At the same time, higher education in the UK opens the door to further employment and immigration to this country.

Features of education

UK higher education has its own unique features, which is what sets it apart from other systems of learning.

Admission Features

Most universities in the UK require you to take special pre-entry courses to gain entry. You will usually only need a certificate of completion of one programme, although 4 are available. Foundation courses take between a year and two years and you must be 18 years old before you start your first undergraduate course.

Short programmes

Despite the complexity of the education system, it is characterised by short courses. In most countries it takes 4 years to complete a Bachelor’s degree and another 2-3 years to complete a Master’s degree. In the UK, on the other hand, the Bachelor’s programme is mainly designed for 3 years of study and the Master’s programme for 1 year. In this way, the training is more intensive and the programme remains mostly highly specialised courses.

Language knowledge

To live and study in the UK you need a good knowledge of the language. By studying in an English-speaking environment you can improve your language skills very quickly. Please note that you will need to pass the IELTS when you enrol on any course of study.

Cost of training

Higher education in Britain is recognised as one of the most expensive in the world. Despite the high cost of education, you need to study less, for example, 3 years for a bachelor’s degree instead of the usual 4. Therefore, the price of education in some areas may be even lower than in other countries.


Education at universities in England often includes an internship. For example, the Bachelor’s programme includes a year of internship at an enterprise — Sandwich year. If the programme usually lasts three years, now it will be 4 years. The study time will increase, but at the same time there will be a higher probability of successfully finding a job upon graduation.

Visa and employment

You can obtain a student visa for the duration of your studies. After graduation, foreign graduates receive a graduate visa. It allows you to stay in the country for 2 years, during which time the graduate must be employed. After that, a UK Skilled Worker or UK Innovator Founder visa should be obtained.

Vocational education

This type of apprenticeship is an alternative to academic study and aims to provide students with practical training in their field. Courses range from basic English and maths to Higher National Diplomas.

Vocational education in the UK is available at FE colleges. The following qualifications are available:

  • Technical job — specialising in a specific technical job;
  • Technical certificates — allows you to get a job in your industry or move to another technical level;
  • Applied general qualifications — applied general qualifications for continuing education at an advanced level.

All FE programmes are aimed at students between the ages of 16 and 19. The basis of study is to gain practical skills, after which you can immediately work in your industry. Students who have completed an FE course can apply on the basis of the documents issued to higher education institutions and qualify for admission to the first year of a Bachelor’s degree programme.

A unique category of education in England is Apprenticeship. It is a unique category of education in England — Apprenticeship. When studying under this programme, the student is given all the rights of a full-fledged employee of the organisation, including a salary. Tuition is paid by the employer or the state. However, it is not easy for a foreign student to qualify for this programme as it requires an open work visa.

Bachelor’s degree

A Bachelor’s degree is the first stage of higher education in the UK. It involves in-depth study of one or more subjects. Before enrolling, British students take preparatory courses to acquire the basic knowledge that forms the basis of the first year of study.

A Bachelor’s degree in England will take 3 years, but in Scotland a Bachelor’s degree is obtained in 4 years. Some courses with a year abroad or an internship year can also take four years. Clinical specialisations such as dentistry, veterinary medicine, etc. will require 5 to 6 years of study.

During the training, various methods of studying the industry are used, including seminars and practical classes, group and independent work.

Upon completion of the Bachelor’s degree, graduates are awarded qualifications. The main ones include:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA);
  • Bachelor of Science (BSc);
  • Bachelor of Education (BEd);
  • Bachelor of Engineering (BEng);
  • Bachelor of Laws (LLB);
  • Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MB ChB).

A single subject course is known as a bachelor’s degree with a major. A bachelor’s programme allows you to add a second subject and obtain a degree with a major/second major. Studying two or three main subjects as part of an undergraduate degree is called a joint specialisation. You take multiple modules in subjects rather than studying each module for each subject. All subjects will be given equal weight in your final degree assessment. For example, you could do a joint degree in Law and Spanish or Accounting and Business.

Moreover, all bachelor’s degrees are divided into ordinary and honours degrees. The difference lies only in the grade point average and the time spent on studies. For example, while a regular bachelor’s degree requires 150 ECTS, an honours degree requires 180 ECTS. This will not affect future employment, but it may help to improve your academic level. In some universities, a Bachelor’s degree with honours can be used to go straight into doctoral studies without a Master’s degree.

UK students pay no more than £9,250 per year. Tuition fees for international students range from £12,500 to £37,293 per year. Medical specialisations can cost up to £64,000.

Master’s programme

In higher education institutions in England, Master’s degrees are represented by programmes aimed at developing practical skills and conducting research.

There are several qualifications:

  • Academic. During the course of study, students continue to work in-depth in the field they were pursuing at the undergraduate level. This type includes degrees in the arts, philosophy, education, etc..;
  • Professional. Students choose a narrow specialisation and practice in it, often with further invitation to work. These are masters in engineering, business, law and more. This also includes retraining conversion courses that allow you to change your speciality.

Academic Master’s degrees are in turn divided into Research degrees and Taught degrees.

The student has virtually no class schedule.The student follows a clear plan for completing lectures, practical classes, seminars and writing the dissertation.
The student is fully engaged in the research and working with their supervisor.Training is supervised by the entire teaching staff.
An excellent option for those planning to pursue a doctoral degree (PhD).Suitable for both further academic and professional study.

Master’s degrees can usually be completed in just 1 or 2 years on a full-time basis but may take longer if studied part-time. Master’s degrees can also be integrated into a bachelor’s or doctoral degree as part of a single programme of study, such as a Master of Engineering (MEng).

The cost will vary depending on what you decide to study and where. One year of a Master’s degree can cost between £4,950 and £41,500 for UK students, while international students will pay higher prices.

Doctoral studies

A Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest postgraduate qualification in the university education system in England, equivalent to a PhD. A PhD can be obtained in any subject. It will usually take 3 to 4 years to become a full-time doctor. This qualification involves both research and academic study but is predominantly research orientated. The main requirement is to research your field and produce a dissertation. The work should be based on an original research proposal agreed with your supervisor.

As with Master’s degrees, there are two common types of doctoral qualifications:

  • Academic — training is focussed on conducting original research to advance knowledge in a particular subject area. This includes the PhD and DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy);
  • Professional — involves research and expansion of knowledge, but at a more practical level. These include MD (Doctor of Medicine), DClinPsy (Doctor of Clinical Psychology), EngD (Doctor of Engineering), etc.

Most often you need a Master’s degree to enter a PhD programme, but there are exceptions: some UK universities offer special integration. It is possible to study for a PhD with a Bachelor’s degree and skip the Master’s. This is possible in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects.

Candidates are interviewed upon admission. The competition for the PhD is quite high, so the committee pays detailed attention to your previous achievements in the field of science, existing articles and research that have been published in scientific journals and almanacs and not only.

Doctoral tuition fees range from £4,500 to £9,400 per year for Home fee eligible students. If you are lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship, the money will be paid directly to your university in the amount of £4,712.

As always, tuition fees are higher for international students, with STEM streams costing up to £42,000 per year. International students can apply for UK Council funding for a research project. If your application is approved, your tuition fees will be calculated on the Home fee. You will only need to pay the difference in cost between this fee and the cost for international students. There are also many grants, scholarships and co-funding available for higher education in Britain.

Enrolment process

Studying at a university in England is not a quick process. Before you can apply to university, you must first complete a special preparatory course. You only need to choose and complete one of the programmes on offer to be considered for admission.


This course lasts for 2 years. During this time students study 2-4 specialised subjects of their choice.  With a certificate of successful completion of the course, students enter universities in the UK, where the final exams are counted as entrance exams. A-levels can also be taken at universities in other countries. The course is not only available in the UK. There are also schools with the necessary accreditation in other countries.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

Another programme that allows you to enter universities in England. The IB course basically lasts for two years and includes a special programme of study in one subject from the six areas presented. Each student chooses three subjects and studies them in depth. These subjects will then lead to higher qualifications.

The IB entrance requirements are virtually the same as A-levels, the only difference being that in this case you only need to have completed 9 grades.

Foundation Programme

It lasts only 9-12 months. During this time the student learns the language and some subjects in his/her future profile. If you successfully complete this course, you are guaranteed the right to enrol in universities in England. However, be careful and research in advance whether your university works with this programme, as the most renowned institutions of higher education do not accept applicants for this programme yet.

International Year One programme

It is also designed for a short period of study — 1 year. It can be completed based on the college programmes, and upon completion it can be taken directly into the second year of a bachelor’s programme at a partner university. Students are offered to choose 3-4 disciplines to study. They must be related to your bachelor’s programme of study.

To enter this programme a student must be over 17 years old, have a high school diploma and IELTS from 5.5. The programme has its own disadvantage — it is not available in many universities. Therefore, before choosing this course, be sure to check these details with the chosen university.

Further immigration and employment

To study at a UK higher education institution, you will need to apply for a student visa. You can find out more about it here.

After graduation, the student moves to the graduate visa. You can read about the peculiarities of its registration, requirements for the candidate and validity period in this material

The UK is a popular destination for immigration after completing your education. There is a Skilled Worker visa for this purpose. Those studying on a student visa have two years after graduation to open a work visa. This is a special Skilled Worker visa that allows you to stay in the country for up to 5 years. It can be extended, but the total time of stay must be less than 6 years.

The reason for obtaining a visa is employment. Students usually do not wait until they finish their studies to start looking for possible employment — by that time there may be no vacancies left.

There are a few requirements that must be met in order to obtain a skilled visa:

  • Receive a job offer. Candidates must have a job offer from a UK employer with a valid sponsorship licence. The offer must match the qualifications of the prospective employee;
  • Claim an appropriate salary. The minimum salary for an employee must be at least $25,233 per year. This requirement is valid for those transitioning from a student visa. In other cases, the salary must be higher;
  • Provide evidence of qualifications. You can submit Bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD, PGCE or PGDip qualifications. You can submit your qualifications three months before you graduate;
  • Prove the ability to support yourself. You will need to provide an account statement with a minimum of $1,146 or a letter of sponsorship.

When applying for this visa, you may also need other certificates and medical reports, as well as your travel history for the last five years.

You can also consider another visa to help you stay in the country after completing your studies. UK Innovator Founder visa is a visa for aspiring entrepreneurs. To open this visa, the candidate must submit an innovative business project and it must be approved by a company on the list of authorised organisations.

With a UK Innovator visa, you can reside in England and run a business for 3 years. If you continue to meet all the qualifying requirements after 3 years, you will be able to extend your immigration status for a further 3 years. Dependants must apply for an extension of their residence permit at the same time as you.

You can renew this visa as many times as you like, but most immigrants apply for an ILR as soon as they meet all the necessary criteria. A foreign entrepreneur becomes eligible for ILR after 3 years of residence if the business grows and develops rapidly.

If you and your family have lived in the UK for at least 5 years, you can apply for naturalisation one year after your permanent residence. A decision on citizenship is usually made in 4-6 weeks. All applicants must fulfil the following requirements:

  • In the 5 years before applying for UK citizenship, you must not have been absent from the UK for more than 450 days in total and more than 90 days in the last year;
  • There are no criminal or administrative violations;
  • Mastered English at a conversational level;
  • Successfully passed a test of knowledge of life in the UK.

To obtain any of the visas described above, we recommend that you contact professionals. With Imperial & Legal you will save time and money, and our experienced immigration lawyers will do everything possible to ensure that you receive a visa to England. 


Studying higher education in the UK is a step towards quality learning, as the country is home to many leading universities providing state-of-the-art education and research facilities. Studying at top UK universities can help you develop both personally and professionally, as well as giving you the freedom to fulfil yourself on a global scale.

How to choose a university and study programme in the UK?

Choosing a university and programme for higher education in the UK can seem like a daunting task. However, there are a few key points to consider when making this decision:

  • Make sure the university of your choice offers a degree programme of your choice;
  • Consider your financial situation. There are both more expensive and budget higher education institutions in Britain;
  • Research the university’s reviews and reputation — some universities may specialise in certain subjects that will be of interest to you;
  • Think about your career goals — some universities offer more internships and job opportunities than others;
  • Ensure that the university and degree programme is accredited by a professional body or government agency;
  • Pay attention to the location of the university — some universities are close to major cities or offer a busier student life.

By taking all these factors into account, you can make an informed decision about which UK university and degree programme is right for you.

How do I apply for higher education in the UK?

Applications are accepted via the UCAS website. This service is used by all universities in the UK and all information regarding entry requirements, tuition fees, etc. can be found there. The same application process applies to all students: local, EU and international students.

Applicants must include all relevant qualifications and educational qualifications, projected outcomes (applicable to those expecting to study higher education in Scotland), and a personal statement. This personal statement is limited to 4,000 characters and should include the reasons why you wish to study your chosen subjects, as well as any relevant experience you may have that may add to what makes you an ideal undergraduate candidate. You will be able to choose up to 5 universities when applying for your undergraduate degree.

UCAS has a very strict application system, so make sure you apply according to the relevant deadlines (those who want to apply to Oxford or Cambridge universities will need to apply earlier than others).

On the day you receive your final results, you will either be accepted or you will receive a rejection. Those who were unable to progress to the desired programme/degree are given the opportunity to choose other options by contacting the university directly.

How do I find accommodation for a student while studying higher education in the UK?

There are a number of accommodation options for students while studying at a university in England:

  • Hostels

This type of accommodation is chosen by most students as it is more budget-friendly than renting. Usually dormitories are owned by the university. They are located on campus or close to the university to make it convenient for students to get to classes. Students are given their own room, kitchen and bathrooms. You will be rooming with other students, not necessarily those on the same course as you, so this is a great way to make new friends.

  • Private hostels

Private student residences are similar to university residences but belong to organisations other than the university. They can house students from several different universities — ideal for widening your social circle even further. In private hostels you will have your own room and shared facilities, but sometimes there are private studio rooms available for an additional fee. Some private hostels even have cinema rooms and saunas. Before you decide to move in, check if there are any upfront costs and if utilities are included in your rent.

  • Private hire

If you feel you need your own space and you are not looking for a budget housing option, you can rent a flat or house. Since not all universities have enough dormitory space, you can rent with your classmates. Although living in private rented accommodation can be more expensive (you have to deal with rent and bills), it gives you the opportunity to choose who you live with and where.

  • Homestay accommodation

Renting a room with a local family can be a great option for students who need the comforts of home while studying. Host families are vetted and approved by the university, so you can be sure that you will be in a safe environment. The university can also take into account any preferences you may have about who you stay with before offering you accommodation. Living with families often means staying with the whole family at all times. This can be a great option for international students who want to practise their English and experience everyday British life.

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