There are currently over 300 institutions of higher education registered with the UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. Most of these are public, with only four fully private universities functioning in the UK.
The UK has two tiers of higher education: undergraduate and postgraduate. Within these two, the following certificates and degrees are offered:
This is a short one-year (two year part-time) course available in a range of academic disciplines. It is lower than a bachelor’s degree, but can sometimes count towards the credits of a bachelor’s degree.
The DipHE takes two years to complete, or three years for nursing diplomas. It is equivalent to two thirds of a bachelor’s degree, and students completing a Bachelor of Arts are awarded a DipHE if they complete two of their course’s three years. The DipHE is equivalent to the US Associate’s Degree.
The HND is the same level as the DipHE and also takes two years to complete. However, it is more vocationally focused than the DipHE, and learning tends to be practical and hands-on.
The Foundation degree is the same level as the DipHE and HND, but unlike the others, students are awarded a degree at the end. Of course, this degree is lower than a full bachelor’s degree, but it can be topped up to a bachelor’s degree. Foundation degrees typically take two years to complete, or three to four years part-time.
The bachelor’s degree is the highest undergraduate award. The most common bachelor’s degrees are Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BSc). Bachelor’s degrees normally take three years full-time to complete, apart from in Scotland, where they normally take four years.
The Master’s degree is the first level of postgraduate studies. Many bachelor’s degrees, especially in the fields of engineering and the sciences, provide the option of adding a fourth year to the regular three year degree programme to gain a master’s award. This fourth year usually involves a research project or dissertation. It is also possible to study for a master’s degree in its own right, but it is usually necessary to have a bachelor’s degree as a foundation.
Master’s degrees can either be taught or research-based. The MBA (master’s degree in business administration is the most popular master’s programme for international students in the UK.
Doctorates or PhDs are the highest level of postgraduate study. All doctorates in the UK are research-based and are awarded after the completion of an extensive thesis.
Undergraduate and postgraduate studies normally take place in universities, but some programmes are taught in colleges, music conservatoires, art schools, business schools and agricultural colleges.
There are three main types of university in the UK, categorized according to when they were built:
The Ancient Universities were built before the 1800s, and some of them, including Oxford and Cambridge, date back as far as medieval times.
The Red Brick universities, or Civic Universities as they are sometimes called, were built during Victorian times (1837-1901) and up until the Second World War. Their buildings were usually constructed using red brick, which explains their name. Some universities that were built more recently than the Second World War, but before the 1960s, such as the University of Reading, the University of Nottingham, and Cardiff University are generally grouped together with the Red Brick Universities.
Universities built after the 1960s are normally referred to as new or modern universities. These include universities such as Kent, York and Coventry.
In addition to these three main types of university, the UK also has an Open University, which was founded in 1986. This is the UK’s only institution specifically designed for long-distance learning. It has the power to award undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.