Study in the UK

You are here

By studying in the UK you'll receive a top-class education and qualifications that are recognised all over the world

The UK is one of the most popular destinations for foreign students and with the country's worldwide reputation for top-quality education it's not hard to see why.

You don't need to worry about the recognition of your hard-earned qualifications as those gained at UK institutions are recognised by universities, employers and governments throughout the world, affording you a huge amount of freedom once you graduate.

No matter your disposition, there's a place for everyone in the UK. Nature lovers will feel at home within the countryside and coastal towns while city dwellers will find their haven in cosmopolitan cities such as London, Manchester, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. Studying in the UK, you will find that the history is rich, the nightlife diverse and that opportunities to broaden your horizons are endless.

Masters degrees

There are a number of postgraduate study options for students in the UK, including Masters degrees. A variety of subjects and courses are available and they are split into two types:

  • Taught courses - allow you to build on knowledge gained during your undergraduate study through lectures, seminars and practical work;
  • Research courses - focus more on independent study and involve less guidance from tutors.

Masters usually last one year full time, although some research-based courses can take 18 months to two years to complete. To gain entry onto a course as an international student you will need:

  • to have gained a Bachelors degree (usually completed over three years, except in Scotland where it takes four years) or an equivalent qualification in another country;
  • to ensure you can meet the required level of English language to participate fully on your chosen course;
  • a copy of your passport.

UK universities

There are 161 public higher education institutions in the UK. The majority of postgraduate degrees are taken at universities or colleges and all subjects can be categorised into the following faculties:

  • Arts and humanities;
  • Business and social sciences;
  • Technology, science and engineering.

Some universities specialise in selected subject areas, such as University College Falmouth, which is recognised as a specialist arts college.

Currently 70 UK institutions feature in the QS World University Rankings 2014/15, with four ranked within the world's top ten.

The academic calendar can vary between different universities but usually runs from September to June. A number of postgraduate programmes now start in January. The main holiday periods are Christmas, Easter and summer, while some institutions include reading weeks in their calendars.

Choosing a UK university

If you're an international student, check the institution you're applying to is recognised by the government as a degree-awarding body. To do so, visit Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD).

The UK Russell Group is a list of prestigious institutions such as the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, however, the UK government does not have an official ranking system for its universities. Independent ranking systems such as lists from The Guardian and The Times can be useful. To find out which institutions excel in your subject area, see the QS World University Rankings by Subject.

Location is another important factor when deciding where to study. The cost of living in London and South East England is higher than the rest of England and Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. You should also think about whether you would prefer a campus or city experience:

  • Campus universities have the majority of their buildings, accommodations and social facilities in one particular area, making getting around easy. Examples of campus universities include the University of Nottingham, University of Warwick and the University of York.
  • City universities are more spread out. Lecture halls could be at one end of the city and your accommodation at the other but on the plus side you get more options when socialising. You'll find city universities in Manchester, Sheffield and London.

Other things to consider when choosing a study destination include:

  • student satisfaction rates;
  • level of student care;
  • career/employment opportunities once you graduate;
  • teaching quality.

Course fees

These vary across all institutions so it is important to contact each university individually. European Union (EU) students are charged the same as those from the UK; those from outside the EU will face higher fees.

Postgraduate tuition fees can range from £5,000 to more than £30,000. International students pay an average of £11,000 a year for tuition fees according to the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS).

Universities in England and Wales can charge up to £9,000 per year for undergraduate study and in Northern Ireland the limit is £3,573. Scotland does not charge undergraduate fees for domestic or EU students.

Medicine and dentistry courses will cost more while fees for an MBA (Master of Business Administration) will be considerably higher.

Funding to study in the UK

As an international student, you can fund your study through savings, family support and loans. You could also secure grants from your home government to pay for fees and living costs.

Scholarships and awards from institutions and charitable trusts can help, and these vary depending on the university and your personal circumstances.

Make sure you cover all of your costs when applying and speak to your international office about postgraduate tuition fees and scholarships, which are specific to you.

How to apply

There is no centralised body that covers postgraduate applications in the UK and in the majority of cases you'll need to apply directly to your chosen university. The easiest way to complete this process is by applying online via the university website and tracking your progress.

Teacher training courses are an exception as you apply through a centralised system called UCAS Teacher Training.

It's best to apply for postgraduate study as early as possible, especially for international students as an offer of a place is needed to arrange student accommodation or get scholarship funding. The majority of courses don't have an official closing deadline with the exception of courses in teacher training, law and medicine.

All undergraduate applications are handled by the centralised UCAS system.

If you are applying for a course, or a job in the UK and have qualifications from another country, find information and guidance on how to satisfy the necessary requirements, at UK NARIC (National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom).

Language requirements

All courses in the UK are taught in English so students must be able to interact fluently and effectively. The most commonly accepted proficiency test in the UK is the IELTS (International English Language Testing System). International postgraduates take the academic test, which is made up of four sections:

  • listening;
  • reading;
  • speaking;
  • writing.

Results are graded on a nine-band scale, with a minimum score of six or seven usually required by universities. Find a test centre near you at IELTS Worldwide Search.

Other English language proficiency test include:

Student visas

As an EU citizen, you are permitted to live in any EU country while studying as long as you:

  • are studying for more than three months;
  • are enrolled at an approved university or other educational institution;
  • have sufficient income (from any source) to live without needing income support;
  • have comprehensive health insurance cover.

In the UK, student visas are part of the tier 4 visa category. You can apply for a general student visa if you are from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland and you will need to show:

  • that you have been offered a place on a course;
  • that you have enough money to support yourself for the duration of your study;
  • that you have English language proficiency to level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

For a list of institutions that sponsor migrants under tier 4 of the visa category, go to GOV.UK - Register of Sponsors (Tier 4).

This type of visa costs £310 if you are applying from outside the UK.

As an international student coming to the UK, the Home Office also advises you to:

  • make sure you are familiar with the conditions of your visa, including the number of hours you are allowed to work;
  • declare any sums of cash of €10,000 or more (or the equivalent in another currency) if you are travelling from a country outside the European Union.

Find out more at GOV.UK - Student visas.

UK exchanges and placements

International students may find it useful and cost effective to find work placements in the UK, while studying here. These can be organised with independent research and with help from your university careers service.

Students attending a UK university can take part in the EU's education training and youth support programme Erasmus+. The scheme aims to offer study, training, work experience and volunteer placements to millions of students. Opportunities last from three months to one academic year in EU countries.

Your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in another EU country. Check that your university is involved in the programme and offers the Erasmus+ scheme in your subject.

It isn't always necessary to speak the language of your host country, although you can arrange intensive language courses before you go and when you arrive. Speak to the Erasmus+ coordinator at your university about available opportunities.

Doctoral programmes

Doctoral degrees, also known as PhDs, are usually more demanding than a Masters and take about three years full time to complete. For entry onto a PhD course you need to have good undergraduate degree and a relevant Masters qualification.

Tuition fees for students from the UK and the EU can range from £3,000 to £6,000, however fees for international students can be considerably more.