UK - Education System

Universities in the UK have long been known for their excellence both in terms of course quality and student welfare. The UK has enormous higher education options to offer to both domestic and international students who enroll in various universities to pursue different programs. The UK has more than 250 Universities and HE Institutions spread across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

  Universities
Higher Education Institutions
England 91 132
Scotland 15  19
Wales 8  11
Northern Ireland 2 4
United Kingdom 116 166


Click here for a list of important universities in the UK.

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Difference between University and Higher Education Institution

Institutions need to fulfill certain criteria which are judged by the Quality Assurance Agency on behalf of the Privy Council before they can be awarded the title "university. The Privy Council is responsible, under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, for approving the use of the word 'university' (including 'university college') in the title of a higher education institution.


Course Structure
The minimum age for a student to begin his undergraduate course is 18 years and in Scotland it is 17. Various qualifications offered by the UK universities can be broadly classified as:

  • Diplomas and HNDs
    These are very popular courses as it can be completed within 2 years. Students even add on to these courses and make it a degree qualification by staying on an year extra.
  • Bachelor/Undergraduate degrees
    These are three-year degree courses after the completion of which a student is awarded a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree. These are undergraduate (or ‘first degree’) courses.

  • Masters/Postgraduate degrees
    Masters degrees are four-year degree courses, often sandwich courses involving one year in industry or one year study abroad. You can also get a masters degree by doing a one-year course after completing an undergraduate degree. These are classed as postgraduate degrees.

  • Doctorates
    Another type of masters degree is the MRes, (Masters in Research) which prepares students for doctoral research. Doctorate is the next highest qualification which can be completed in three to four years.

In Scotland undergraduate programmes are offered both on a three-year basis, leading to a general degree, and on a four-year basis, leading to an honours degree.



Taught or Research

In the UK, there are two types of postgraduate courses : Taught and Research based. While taking up a postgraduate course in the UK, you must know whether the course that you have opted for is taught or research based. Taught courses are have fixed number of contact hours which will be less compared to the undergraduate level but you would still be attending classes. Taught courses are divided into a number of modules for which you are assessed at the end of the term.

In a research based course, a student has to keep track of his or her own study route, though a tutor is provided for help. A research student however has access to all the aids within the campus. Postgraduate research courses take much longer time than taught courses (three to four years as opposed to one), and carry a higher level qualification.

Different Groups of Universities

Some of the Universities in the UK have formed groups with common interests. These include the various regional university associations and also the so called “mission groups”. Some of the important mission groups include:

  • Russell Group
  • 1994 Group
  • Million +
  • University Alliance


1994 Group: This is so called because it was founded in 1994. It consists of 19 UK universities, who share common aims, standards and values.

Million+: This group was formerly known as Campaigning for Mainstream Universities (CMU) and is a university think-tank consisting of post-1992 universities. They work to help solve complex problems in higher education and to ensure that policy reflects the potential of the UK's world-class university system.

Russell Group: The Russell Group is so-called because it met traditionally at the Russell Hotel in London. It is an association of 20 major research-intensive universities of the United Kingdom.

University Alliance: The University Alliance was formally launched in 2007. The institutions have a balanced portfolio of research, teaching, enterprise and innovation as integral to their missions.

However, a large number of universities do not belong to any of these mission groups or might belong to some other mission but are nevertheless part of the Universities UK.

Admission in UK Universities
Apart from subject specific qualification, an international student is also required to have a minimum band score of 4.5 in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Services (UCAS) is the central organization in the UK that processes admissions for entry.

Click here for details on the List of Important Exams.

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