Education in the UK is compulsory for all citizens from 5 to 16 years. The system is divided into key stages, which are subject to the national curriculum and common standards for all students:

  • Early Years Foundation stage is an optional stage of education taught through games and play, a kind of kindergarten for British children. The last year of Pre-School is called Reception.
  • Key Stages 1-2. Primary school involves the study of about 10-12 basic subjects. At the end of each year, a child takes standard assessment tests (SATs) in Englishreading, grammar, punctuation and spelling, Maths, and Science.
  • Key Stages 3-4. The range of compulsory subjects expands following the transition to secondary school. There are now core subjectsEnglish, Maths, Science and foundation subjectsComputing, Physical Education (PE), Citizenship. Schools must also introduce at least one additional subjectArts, Design and Technology, Humanities, Modern Foreign Languagess. Compulsory education is completed by sitting GCSE exams and obtaining a General Certificate of Secondary Education.
  • Key Stage 5 is an optional stage that goes beyond the national curriculum and is taken by those planning to enter a university. Final exams depend on the chosen programme: IB, A-level, Pre-U, AP.

Nursery School (Pre-School)Foundation0the last preparatory year is called Reception Year3-5Phonics screening checkreading 40 words out aloud to a teacher
Primary SchoolKS — 11-25-7SATs
Primary SchoolKS — 23-67-11SATs
Lower Secondary / High SchoolKS — 37-911-14SATsиногда GCSE
Upper Secondary / High SchoolKS — 410-1114-16GCSE
Upper Secondary School / Sixth FormKS — 512-1316-18IB, A-level, Pre-AP, BTEC

The above scheme is valid in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Scottish system has several differences[0].

Education in the UK is attracting more and more students from year to year. The prestigious Oxford and Cambridge universities with a centuries-long history are located here, as well as dozens of other world-famous educational institutions and research centers, which put Britain in the top of the QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings, second only to the USA[1].

The United Kingdom is unique as it consists of 4 historical countries, each having a separate educational system. And while England, Wales, and Northern Ireland largely follow the same standards, education in Scotland has significant differences.

  • Centuries-old traditions. It was the ancient British universities that the Ivy League schools and other famous universities were modelled on. Therefore, the main feature of education in the UK is respect for the rules that were formed centuries ago. This in a good sense conformity supports the system that has been considered most effective for generations. At the same time, the UK education does respond to acute changes in the world. It is flexible enough to remain competitive.
  • Cultural diversity. From cosmopolitan cities like London to historic counties like Yorkshire, the UK is a place of cultural contrasts. According to recent statistics, there are more than 500000 international students at British universities (21% of all students) which makes the United Kingdom one of the top destinations to study in the world, second only to the USA[2].
  • Short programmes. In most countries, undergraduate studies take 4 years, and master's programmes take 2–3 years to complete, while in the UK they often last 3 yearsexcept for Scotland and 1 yearexcept for research programmes, respectively. First, it makes the educational process very intensive and full of specialized courses. Second, it helps to reduce overall tuition fees and accommodation costs.
  • Improving the English language. Today, English is the language of all international activities from business to research. While studying in Britain, a student can improve his language skills in a natural English-speaking environment quite fast. Many foreign students begin to think and dream in English just in a month.
  • Fees and funding for EU citizens. For now, EU and UK students share the same rights, which include home student fees (lower than international student ones) and a number of postgraduate loans and grants. The so-called home students are also eligible for funding from the UK’s research councils, the university itself, or via a career sponsorship scheme.
  • Early career planning. In most cases, each stage of education requires an applicant to have experience or qualifications relevant to the programme. Changing one’s major is a rare occurrence in British universities. That is why a future student has to choose his profession at the stage of high school or preparatory programmes involving taking exams in specific disciplines.
  • Uncertainty over visa regulations. Currently, EU citizens do not need any visas to study, work and live in the UK, which also means being free from restrictions on working hours and duration of stay. This is not to change until 31 December 2020, or even 30 June 2021. But Brexit situation is still surrounded by great uncertainty over the rights and status of European students studying in Britain.
  • Difficulties in naturalization for non-EU students. In the UK, switching to a work visa will require considerable effort from an international student: it is necessary to be employed by a licensed sponsor offering an appropriate salary. It can be hard to fulfill the criteria because British citizens get priority in employment. And a foreigner is enabled to stay in the country only 4 months after graduationTier 4 visa restriction. However, in September 2019, the UK government announced that a 2-Year Post-Study Work Visa may be reintroduced, thus extending this period to two years[3]. The whole process of naturalization is extremely complex and takes at least 10 years.

University admission assistance

Our staff will walk you through the entire admission process: from choosing a university and preparing documents to enrollment and obtaining a visa. We are always in touch and ready to answer any questions. UniPage experts will always objectively assess your situation and suggest the most suitable university options.

United Kingdom - General information
region British Islands
Capital London
Language English, Welsh
Currency Pound Sterling
Population 63,181,775
Students 2,600,000
Foreigner students 16.4%
Statistics - Universities
Universities in top 100 16
Universities in top 200 26
Universities in top 500 49
Universities in top 1000 76
Universities in top 5000 139
Cost of living in United Kingdom
Expenses - USD/Month Min. Med.
Accommodation 306 398
Food 177 391
Transportation 59 180
Communications and utilities 74 104
Clothing 20 77
Sports and leisure 25 88
Total 662 1,239
Accommodation in United Kingdom USD/Month
Shared room outside of centre 309
Shared room in city centre 402
1 bedroom apartment outside of centre 596
1 bedroom apartment in city centre 723
Location on map

Cost and structure of education in the UK

Type of studyAgeDurationMin. cost Avg. costMin. language levelExam
Summer Camp6-181-10 weeks664 USD/weekexcluding food and accommodation 1,195 USD/weekexcluding food and accommodation A1-
Language courses16+1-50 weeks173 USD/weekexcluding food and accommodation 664 USD/weekexcluding food and accommodation A1-
Secondary education11-176 years19,920 USD/year39,840 USD/yearB1-
Apprenticeship16+1-6 years FreeFreeB1IELTS 5.0
Foundation16+1 year10,624 USD/year18,592 USD/yearB1IELTS 5.0
Undergraduate17+3 years13,280 USD/year31,872 USD/yearB2IELTS 6.0
Medical school17+5-6 years29,216 USD/year41,168 USD/yearC1IELTS 6.5
Master's20+1 year13,280 USD/year22,576 USD/yearC1IELTS 6.5
Doctorate21+3 years19,920 USD/year26,560 USD/yearC1IELTS 7.0

It should be noted that there are two levels of tuition fees at public universities in the UK: a lower 'home' fee and a higher 'overseas' fee. The minimum and average costs listed above are applicable to overseas students. As for EU citizens, they still belong to the group of home students and therefore can be charged up to a certain maximum depending on the part of the UK. But the prices will vary in case of postgraduate studies, part-time programmes, and private universities or colleges.

Part of the UKMax. undergraduate fee for EU citizens
England12,284 USD
Wales11,952 USD
Northern Ireland5,525 USD

ExpensesAverage cost
Language test266 USD
Visa Tier 4 348 + 19.20fingerprints and photograph taken GBP
Tuberculosis test124 USD
Flight 146 USD
Accommodation1,328 USD / month
Health insurance199 USD / year
Food345 USD / month
Public transport113 USD / month

Options for admission to British universities

Education in the UK
Education in the UK

Educational institutions in the UK offer a large number of different qualifications for local and foreign students. Depending on the duration and difficulty, they are all divided into 9 levels within the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) for the most part valid in the territory of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In Scotland a separate system encompassing 12 levels of qualifications is adopted — Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF).

RQF SCQFExamples
Entry (E1, E2, E3)1, 2, 3Skills for Life, ESOLEnglish for speakers of other languages
14GCSEgrades 3, 2, 1 or grades D, E, F, G, first certificate
25GCSEgrades 3, 2, 1 or grades D, E, F, G, intermediate apprenticeship
36A level, IB diploma, AS level, advanced apprenticeship
47CertHEcertificate of higher education, HNChigher national certificate, higher apprenticeship
58Foundation degreedoes not exist in Scotland, DipHEdiploma of higher education, HNDhigher national diploma
69Ordinary bachelor's degree, graduate certificate, graduate diploma, degree apprenticeship
610Bachelor's degree with honorsbachelor of the arts (BA) hons, bachelor of science (BSc) hons
711Integrated master's degreeMEng, MSci, MChem, Master's degreemaster of arts (MA), master of science (MSc), PGCEpostgraduate certificate in education, PGDippostgraduate diploma, PGCertpostgraduate certificate
812Doctoratedoctor of philosophy (PhD or DPhil)

Admission and entry requirements at the UK universities

Higher education at various levels in the UK can be obtained from universities, colleges and other specialized institutions, such as art schools or business schools. A university collegenot equal to the University College London having a university status is understood as a small college institution that does not have full or independent university status, but is often recognized as part of such university.

Admission for undergraduate and preparatory programmes is carried out through a specialized service UCASUniversities and Colleges Admissions Service, and for master's programmes — directly through the universities’ websites. A student has the right to apply for up to five programmes in one or more universities. Entry requirements depend on the type and level of programme, citizenship and current qualifications of an applicant, and the internal policy of a particular university.

The National Academic Recognition Information Center for the United Kingdom (NARIC) can serve as a good source of information regarding recognition and comparison of international qualifications and skills in Britain. Here you can order an official statement of comparability clarifying the level of student’s qualifications in UK termsFee: 49.66 USD + VAT* (59.53 USD) . However, in most cases, universities are enabled to independently evaluate candidate’s certificates and diplomas on the basis of certified translations provided.

Before applying, please note that UK universities use their own system of credits — CATSCredit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme. The ratio to the European ECTS is the following: 1 ECTS = 2 CATS.

Foundation programmes in the UK

In order to qualify for admission to a university in the UK, international applicants need to complete one of the preparatory courses. The main difference between the available programmes is that for entering a Foundation Programme it is necessary to have a certificate of secondary education (11 years), while for IB or A-Level programmes, which are essentially options for completing secondary education in Britain, 9-10 grades of school education in a home country are sufficient. A common requirement is minimum language proficiency: IELTS 5.5, rarely 5.0. A student may not need to provide any language tests if English is his first language or he studied his previous degree in an English-speaking country.

Foundation programme

A one-year course, during which international students improve their level of English proficiency and study some specific subjects. Programmes of this type are offered by many universities. Classes start twice a year: in September (ending in June) and January (ending in August). Successful completion of the Foundation Programme guarantees admission, and in some cases, a reduction in tuition fees at the university where the programme took place.

Foundation programmes usually correspond to one of the five academic pathways:

  • Business Programme is suitable for those who are going to progress to undergraduate degrees related to business, management, economics, finance;
  • Engineering Programme prepares students for admission to engineering degrees;
  • Law Programme is intended for future sociologists, legal scholars, and political scientists;
  • Life Sciences is suitable for those who are going to do research in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology or mathematics;
  • Art and Humanities is usually studied by future philosophers, historians, cultural scientists and other specialists in the field of Humanities.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

IB is an international programme which originated in Switzerland. International Baccalaureate exists in many countries and is recognized by universities all over the world. In Britain, the programme is taught in schools and colleges administered by the IB, though the curriculum is not much different from the Foundation Programme at the university. Within two years, students are expected to complete assessments in six subjects, one from each subject group: studies in language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics and the artsможно заменить на любой другой профильный предмет. As part of the programme, students also study theory of knowledge, write an extended research essay and complete a project, related to the concepts of creativity, activity and service.


A uniquely British high school programme for those entering universities. A-Level involves studying 2-4 specialized disciplines at the choice of students. Based on the results of training, students take exams, which are later accepted for admission to the universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A-Levels are equivalent to Highers or Advanced Highers in Scotland. Like IB, the A-Level qualification provides access to many universities worldwide, although it is considered less universal.

Colleges in the UK — Vocational Education — Further education

Vocational education in the UK is represented by qualifications formerly known as National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) at levels 1-7 of the RQF. In 2008-2013 it also included the 14-19 Diplomastechnical awards, technical certificates, tech levels, applied general qualifications — technical and applied qualifications at levels 1, 2 and 3. They are currently closed, but certain tech levels (level 2 RQF), technical certificates (level 3 RQF) and applied general qualifications are still granted within further education (FE)[4]. Scotland has its own Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs).

Vocational education in the country covers all courses following secondary education but not being part of higher education. They are implemented by two types of colleges: (general) FE colleges and Sixth form colleges. Programmes are designed for applicants aged over 16 who want to gain practical skills and direct access to employment. According to statistics, most of the certificates are awarded in the following subject areas: Health, Arts, Media, Business, Law, Information and Communication Technology, Retail, Tourism, Engineering[5]. FE is also a means to progress into the first stage of higher education — undergraduatethere may be exceptions.

Another type of FE qualifications is Apprenticeship. In fact, this is an internship, in which most of the training takes place directly at the workplace — a minimum of 30 hours per week and 30 weeks per year. A student, called apprentice, earns a wage, gets holiday pay and only occasionally (20% of the programme duration) attends classes at a college or university. Higher / degree apprenticeships are equivalent to the bachelor’s or master’s academic degrees. GCSE / A-Level exams or an advanced apprenticeship may be required for admission.

The advantage of doing an apprenticeship is the fact that tuition fees are fully covered by the government and the employer. However, it is not so easy for non-EU foreign students to use this opportunity, as this will require them to obtain a work visa. Levels of internships, entry requirements, standards, and their regulatory bodies vary by a constituent country[6]. For more details, contact education providers or employers directly.

Bachelor’s in the UK — Undergraduate

Bachelor's degree is the first stage of higher education in Britain, recognized by the Bologna process. It involves obtaining traditional BABachelor of Arts or BScBachelor of Science as well as BEdBachelor of Education, BEngBachelor of Engineering or LLBBachelor of Laws. Most universities in the UK classify undergraduate degrees into ordinary degrees and degrees with honors, based on the grade point average or the intensity of the programme. For example, they may require 300 and 360 ECTS, respectively. The type of degree usually does not affect student’s future employment, but it may make a distinction in progressing to the next level of education. So, sometimes a student holding a bachelor's degree with honors may transfer to doctoral studies without a master's degree.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, almost all undergraduate programmes take 3 years (with the exception of medicine and architecture), since basic knowledge taught in the first year of European and American universities is given to British students within preparatory courses. In Scotland, obtaining an ordinary degree also takes 3 years, but students who wish to receive an honours degree stay at the university for another year, after which they write their final thesis. It is believed that the latter option involves more in-depth and specialized training.

British undergraduate education provides students with the opportunity for both independent and group studies. Teachers engage students in classroom discussions and encourage the development of creative thinking. At the same time, undergraduate courses largely focus on practical training in order to meet the needs of the modern labour market.

In most cases, applications for undergraduate programmes are accepted from early September to mid-December. Admission requirements include the following:

  • A certificate of secondary education;
  • A preparatory programme completed;
  • Minimum language proficiency (IELTS 6.0).

In many countries, people think of undergraduate qualifications as bachelor's degrees. In Britain there are actually a number of undergraduate qualifications:

  • Undergraduate Master's degree is an integrated master's degree combining bachelor's and postgraduate studies in one programme. It typically takes 4 years to complete. Studies begin as those of an undergraduate level, but end up with obtaining a master's level qualification, officially associated with the second cycle of training in the Bologna process. The educational process involves teaching applied knowledge and skills necessary for professional growth in STEM subjectsScience, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. The most common qualifications are MEngMaster of Engineering, MSciMaster in Science (different from MSc — Master of Science) all over Britain and MAMaster of Arts in Scotland. The benefits of taking an integrated degree include a smoother transition from undergraduate to graduate studies and practical orientation of training. Please note that undergraduate Master's is not always sufficient for admission to PhD, therefore an applicant is to determine career preferences in advance.
  • Foundation Degreedifferent from Foundation Programme/Year is a combined academic and vocational qualification, equivalent to two years of an honours bachelor’s degree. It is offered by colleges and universities in partnership with employers. Popular fields of study include education, medicine, social work, nursing, sports, tourism, transportation, business, management, agriculture, arts, and design. Full-time course takes 2 years to complete, part-time — about 4 years. Each college or university independently sets admission requirements. Those often take into account previous industrial or commercial workplace experience of an applicant. A foundation degree holder can either go on to employment or top up to a higher qualification. Despite the fact that bachelors may have better job opportunities, many companies of the UK lack staff due to the Brexit process, and therefore willingly accept workers with foundation degrees. Statistics show that within six months after graduating, 61.5% are employed in some form, 55.9% are engaged in further studying, and only 1.8% are considered unemployed[7].
  • Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Higher National Diploma (HND) are equivalent to one year and two years of bachelor’s studies, respectively. The same time is required to complete a full-time programme[hint:part-time — 2 and 4 years respectively]. These qualifications are designed to provide the student with skills directly related to his future career in engineering, agriculture, healthcare, and social work. A minimum of one or two A-levels is required for admission. Classes predominate, but instead of usual exams, students' knowledge is assessed through projects, presentations, and practical exercises. Upon receiving an HNC or HND, students already have an opportunity to work in the field, but similar to foundation degree holders, they often progress to a bachelor's degree via a top-up course.
  • Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) and Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE) are the academic equivalents of HNC and HND, following the same standards as bachelor's degree. On the one hand, these are stand-alone qualifications intended for students who are not ready to commit to a full three-year degree course. On the other hand, these are some kind of intermediate qualifications that are awarded to students who, for whatever reason, have to leave their Bachelor’s course after the first or second year. However, CertHE and DipHE are available only for a limited list of subjects, including animal science, counselling, healthcare, nursing, paramedic science, and textile design. The fees are usually the same as for Bachelor’s studies.

Ordinary degree+ Foundation degree, DipHE, CertHEDegree with honoursGPA
DistinctionFirst Class Honours (1st / 1 / I)70-100%
MeritUpper Second Class Honours (2.1 / 2i / II-1)60–69%
PassLower Second Class Honours (2.2 / 2ii / II-2)50–59%
PassThird Class Honours (3rd / 3 / III)40–49%

Master’s in the UK — Postgraduate

Master's degrees in UK universities include many different kinds, ranging from academic programmes to more practice-oriented, vocational postgraduate courses. Most of them require 1 year of full-time training (90 ECTS).

The following types of master's level qualifications can be distinguished:

  • Academic master's degrees offer in-depth study of a certain topic within a subject usually related to student’s undergraduate experience. They are suitable for building both academic and professional careers.
  • Professional master's degrees are highly vocational, with narrow specialization. Students acquire skills necessary for particular careers, often with subsequent employment. Professional studies also include postgraduate conversion courses for students wishing to qualify in a different field.

Academic Master’s can be:

  • Taught degrees are more structured, following a set timetable of lectures, seminars, workshops, time for independent work and writing a thesis. The course is largely supervised by the teaching staff.
  • Research degrees are more independent, almost without scheduled classes. A student focuses on one or more research projects receiving guidance from an expert supervisor. These are mostly designed for those who plan to enroll in PhD programmes in the future. Deadlines for submitting documents are typically in June and January. However, in many universities, applications are accepted all year round.

Entry requirements are the following:

  • A bachelor's degree in the relevant field (GPA >60%);
  • Minimum language proficiency (IELTS 6.5also TOEFL, Cambridge Assessment, PTE Academic).

A complete list of required documents may also include:

In addition, some universities require candidates to take an entrance test or attend an interview with a candidate (face-to-face or via Skype). In case a student does not meet the minimum language requirements, private educational institutions usually offer Pre-Master's courses.

DegreeFull TitleTypeLengthSubjects
MAMaster of ArtsTaught1-2 yearsArts, Humanities & some Social Sciences
MScMaster of ScienceTaught1-2 yearsScience, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics & some Social Sciences
MResMaster of ResearchTaught / Research1-2 yearsAll subjects
MPhilMaster of PhilosophyResearch2 yearsAll subjects
MFAMaster of Fine ArtsPractical / Professional1-2 yearsArts
MLittMaster of LettersTaught / Research1-2 yearsArts & Humanities
LLMMaster of LawsTaught / Research1-2 yearsLaw
LPCLegal Practice CourseProfessional1-2 yearsLaw
GDLGraduate Diploma in LawProfessional1 yearLaw
MBAMaster of Business AdministrationProfessional1-2 yearsBusiness & Management
MIMMasters in ManagementProfessional1 yearBusiness & Management
MEngMaster of EngineeringTaught / Professional4 yearsEngineering & Technology
MSWMaster of Social WorkTaught / Professional2 yearsSocial Work
PGCertPostgraduate CertificateTaught / Professional1 termAll subjects
PGDipPostgraduate DiplomaTaught / Professional2 termsAll subjects
PGCEPostgraduate Certificate in EducationProfessional1-2 yearsTeaching
PGDEProfessional Diploma in EducationProfessional1-2 yearsTeaching

In the UK there is a large number of specific programmes that can be difficult to differentiate:

  • PhD 1 + 3 programme is another type of integrated master's degree, which is a combination of master’susually MRes (1 year) and doctoral studies (3 years). Unlike undergraduate master's degreebachelor's + master's a student is awarded both degrees in turn. In the first year students focus on studying subject and obtaining research skills necessary for further PhD course.
  • MPhilMaster of Philosophy is an advanced level research programme. It is highly valued by employers as a stand-alone postgraduate qualification (2 years), which, however, does not provide a full academic career. A student can initially register for the MPhil with the aim of further upgrading to PhD registration upon completion of the first yearwithout awarding a stand-alone MPhil. This often leads to misunderstanding of MPhil as a failed PhD.
  • Joint Master's degrees / double Master's. Joint educational programmes run by two or more universities (usually in Britain and any other country), working in collaboration. Only one master's degree is awarded after two years of study. This is most common within the Erasmus Plus.
  • Oxbridge MAMaster of Arts. If a graduate remains a member of the universities of Oxford or Cambridge for 6-7 years after being awarded a Bachelor of Arts with honors, he is promoted to the title of Master of Arts. Unlike MA degree in other universities, Oxbridge MA is an academic rank, and not a postgraduate qualification.

Conversion courses are designed for students wishing to pursue a profession, unrelated to that studied at the previous stage of education. These often lead to level 6-7 postgraduate qualifications. There are 4 main types of conversion courses in the UK:

  • Graduate diploma (GDip) involves a selection of modules and disciplines that would have been studied on a full bachelor’s programme in the same field. A GDip is usually worth 120 CATS / 60 ECTS.
  • Postgraduate diploma (PGDip). Usually worth 120 CATS / 60 ECTS, a PGDip is quite similar to a master's programme in the same field.
  • Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) is a shorter alternative to a PGDip, normally worth 60 CATS / 30 ECTS.
  • Master’s conversion courses are master's level programmes accepting students with little or no prior experience in the subject. These are usually worth 180 CATS / 90 ECTS

In UK universities the most popular subjects are:

  • Psychology — PGDip or MSc Psychology;
  • Law — Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL);
  • Teaching — PGCEPostgraduate Certificate of Education;
  • Information technology — MSc Computer Science;
  • Management — Master’s in Management (MiM);
  • Accounting — Master’s-level courses in accounting;
  • Journalism — Journalism-related Master’s;
  • Marketing — Marketing Master’s.

The requirements for admission to conversion courses in most cases coincide with those for regular master's programmes.

Doctorate in the UK — Postgraduate

A doctoral degree (PhD, DPhil) is the third and final stage in the UK higher education system. There are PhD programmes in all subjects. Most of them take 3 years, during which students engage in carrying out their own research, work with a supervisor, publish their works in academic journals, participate in academic conferences, and sometimes teach at the undergraduate level. At the final stage, they write up a thesis, submit it as a dissertation and defenв it as part of an oral viva voce exam. In some cases (New Route PhD scheme, Wellcome Trust Four year PhD scheme) doctoral programmes incorporate a number of taught courses, increasing the duration of study to 4 years.

Most often, a master's degree is required to enter a PhD, but some universities offer programmes that are available to students immediately after undergraduate studies. This is usually the case in STEM subjectsScience, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics.

Another option for entering doctoral studies is to register for an MPhil advanced level programme. At the end of the first year, in case a student meets the required standards, he may switch to a PhD.

PhD studentships usually begin in September-October, applications are accepted all year round. However, early submission of documents may increase candidate's chances. A list of admission requirements may include:

  • A master's degree (merit / distinction — GPA >60%) or its equivalent in the relevant field;
  • A bachelor's degree with honours in the relevant field;
  • Minimum language proficiency (IELTS 7.0also TOEFL, Cambridge Assessment, PTE Academic);
  • A research proposal;
  • A personal statement;
  • References from teachers / employers;
  • Attending an interview.

Doctoral programmes in the UK are highly competitive, and the candidate’s success largely depends on his research experience, academic achievements, number of publications and extracurricular activities.

Compared to other countries, the academic career in the UK is quite open to foreigners. Approximately 31% of the teaching staff come from other countries[8]. From year to year, this figure is growing, largely due to the widespread English language.

A PhD degree is a key prerequisite for starting an academic career. Although in some cases, MPhil also opens the doors to the positions of Research Assistant, Lab Technician, Project Manager or Teaching Fellow.

One of the drawbacks of UK universities is a wide use of temporary fixed-term contracts, which impede steady employment in the academic field. Getting a permanent position depends on the standards of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which focuses on the research and publication activity of each candidate.

Major academic positions in the UK are:

  • Postdoctoral Research Assistantship / Fellowship. A postdoc allows a PhD graduate to continue research and further specialize in a particular field. Sometimes the position is associated with the implementation of a specific project at the university. Research Fellows usually have a greater degree of freedom in research than Research Assistants.
  • Assistant / Associate Lecturer. Mostly teaching positions that do not provide permanent contracts.
  • Lecturer (A / B). An entry-level permanent position available to candidates after a few years of work under fixed-term contracts. It is analogous to an Assistant Professor in the USA. A Lecturer is responsible for both teaching and conducting research. The appointment becomes permanent after a probation period of 3 to 4 years. Lecturer A and Lecturer B get different salaries depending on the qualifications of the candidate.
  • Senior Lecturer / Reader. The next after Lecturer step in UK academic career. At some universities, these two positions are equivalent, with Senior Lecturer focusing on teaching, and Reader focusing on research. At other universities, a Senior Lecturer can be promoted to a higher position of Reader.
  • Associate Professor. An international equivalent of Senior Lecturer or Reader, which has become more widespread in the UK in the past decade. Associate Professors are appointed for 5 years, then the results of their work are subject to a review. If they are successful, they are reappointed and enabled to hold this position until retirement.
  • Professor. The highest academic position in the UK. Unlike the United States, where almost all associate professors get promoted to Full Professors, professorships are considerably rarer in the UK. Candidates are required to publish at least two books. The position of Professor also involves an academic leadership role in the department or faculty.

Scholarships and grants

EU students are eligible for a number of funding opportunities. Those include loans covering UK tuition fees and even living costs, such as Tuition Fee Loan for undergraduate students (up to 12,284 USD), postgraduate Master’s Loan (up to 14,483 USD), and postgraduate Doctoral Loan (up to 34,130 USD). Students usually start repaying loans when their income is over a certain ‘threshold’ amount. But the key thing is that one will never have to do that if they cannot afford it.

Postgraduate positions with funding attached for fees, living expenses or both are still available for postgraduate EU-students. Such studentships are mainly offered by Research Councils UK. However, eligibility of EU citizens for these studentships as well as the loans is likely to change after Brexit.

There are also various scholarships for non-EU international students (mostly postgraduate) funded by the British government, individual universities, organizations, and foundations. The majority can be found on the Education UK website. Here are some of the most popular opportunities:

  • Chevening Scholarships. Fully-funded scholarships to undertake any master's course at any UK university for citizens of the eligible countries;
  • Commonwealth scholarships. Funding for master’s, PhD or split-site PhD programmes available to citizens from developing and developed Commonwealth countries.

Student visa to the UK

Nationals from the EU/EEA countries or Switzerland do not currently need a visa to study in the UK. However, this is a prerequisite for all other international students. Brexit may cause some amendments to visa regulations in future, but for now the government has stated that there will be no change to the rights and status of EU citizens until 30 June 2021, or 31 December 2020 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Type of visaAgeValidityLocationApplication fee
General student visa (Tier 4) 16+ 6+ monthsor 11+ months for language schoolsUniversity / College462 USDor 631 USD in case of applying from inside the UK
Short-term study visa16+ Up to 6 or 11 monthsLanguage courses97 or 247 USD
Child student visa (Tier 4)4-17Up to 3age 16 or 17 or 6age under 16 yearsSchool 462 USDor 631 USD in case of applying from inside the UK

Those wishing to obtain higher education at universities in the UK should apply for a Tier 4 visa not earlier than 3 months before the course starts. However, this can only be done with an unconditional offer of a place on a course from the university — Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS). The visa processing time is approximately 3 weeksdepends on the country of citizenship.

British visas are issued under the points-based system. A student must score 40 points by submitting the two documents:

  • CAS from a fully licensed Tier 4 sponsor — 30 points;
  • Evidence of having enough funds / maintenance (cash funds, a loan letter, official sponsorship) — 10 points.

The amount of funds required would be course fees plus living costs for 9 months (15,119 USD1,680 USD per month in London or 12,131 USD1,348 USD per month in any other city of the country).

The complete list of documents to apply for a visa may include:

  • A current passport or other valid travel documentation;
  • Evidence of qualifications (certificates and transcripts);
  • SELTapproved Secure English Language Tests results (GESE, IELTS, ISE)a minimum level of B1;
  • Tuberculosis test results issued by an approved clinicfor the listed countries;
  • Proof of parental or other legal guardian consent and proof of a student’s relationship with a parent or guardianfor students under 18 ;
  • ATAS certificatefor those intending to study at postgraduate level in certain sensitive subjects.

Additionally, as part of the application, a student must:

  • Pay the healthcare surcharge for the entire period of study with the calculation of 199 USD / year;
  • Give fingerprints and photo at a visa application centre — 19.27 USD;
  • Attend an appointment.

Within 10 days upon arrival in the UK, a student must collect his Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). This document serves as a secure identity card and confirms one’s right to study or work in the UK.

Work while studying in the UK

EU, EEA or Swiss nationals do not have any restrictions regarding work whilу studying in the UK.

Tier 4 visa holders can only work part-time (up to 20 hours per week) during term time and full-time (up to 40 hours per week) during the holidays. The exception concerns people aged 16-17, whose maximum is 10 hours per week during term time.

Full-time employment is possible if a work placement is an integral and assessed part of the study programme. However, working hours must not exceed 50% of the total length of the course (for example, a master’s internship).

Visa restrictions also concern certain types of employment: students are forbidden to engage in entrepreneurial activity, to be self-employed, to work as a trainee doctor, professional athlete, sports coach or entertainer[9].

After receiving a job offer, a student will need to get a National Insurance number.

Apprenticeships offer students formal employment (at least 30 hours per week, 30 weeks per year) with periodic attendance of classrooms. Such an opportunity may be available to overseas students, but it requires a work visa. For more details contact education providers or employers directly.

In the United Kingdom, the hourly rate for the National Minimum Wage depends on age and is increased each year. It is also applicable to international students as well.

AgeMin. hourly rate
25+8.28 USD
21-247.93 USD
18-206.20 USD
<184.46 USD
Apprentice <19or 19+ in the first year of apprenticeship3.120 USD

Opportunity to stay and immigration to the UK

EU, EEA and Swiss studentsand their families do not currently need any visas or residence documents to prove they can stay in the UK during and after studies. However, they will usually need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021 to continue living in the country after Brexit, or 31 December 2020 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

There is no fee to apply to the scheme. If successful, a person gets either a settled or pre-settled status depending on the time one has been living in the UK at the moment of applying. In both cases a graduate is enabled to work and study in the UK, use the NHS and access public funds. One may be eligible for British citizenship one year after getting a settled status.

Documents for the EU Settlement Scheme:

  • Proof of identity (a valid passport or national identity card);
  • Proof of continuous residence (National Insurance number or other documents);
  • Criminal record certificates.

For those from outside the EU, EEA or Switzerland, the United Kingdom is one of the hardest countries for immigration. Upon completion of the programme, a Tier 4 visa holder has only 4 months to switch to a Tier 2 (General) visa designed for skilled professionals. In order to obtain it, a student should be employed by a licensed sponsor. However, it is not necessary to wait until the end of the studies. Most of the available vacancies may already be taken by this moment. So, it is worth starting a job search about a year before graduation.

The visa fee depends on its validity period[10]. A student is allowed to work in the country for up to 5 years. It may be extended, but the total stay should not exceed 6 years. A Tier 2 visa holder is also enabled to take a second part-time job (up to 20 hours a week)[11].

In order to apply for a Tier 2 (General), a student needs to:

  • Have an eligible qualification, or receive it within the next three monthsBachelor's, Master's, PGCE, PGDip or at least 12 months of a PhD;
  • Have a valid certificate of sponsorship for the job;
  • Be paid at least 27,623 USD per yearfor those switching from a Tier 4 visa; in other cases — 39,840 USD;
  • Have a minimum of 1,255 USD in the bank account or a sponsorship letter.

In addition, a student may be required to provide:

  • A travel history over the last 5 years;
  • Tuberculosis test results (for students from the listed countries);
  • A criminal record certificate from any country he has lived in for 12 months or more in the last 10 years for those who will be working with vulnerable people.

Another option to stay in the UK is transferring to a Start-up visa. One must have a new, innovative and viable business idea approved by an authorized UK higher education institution or a business organization from the endorsing bodies list. A Start-up visa is valid for only 2 years and cannot be extended. However, one may be able to switch to a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa or Innovator visa.

In September 2019, the UK government announced that it is to reintroduce a 2-Year Post-Study Work Visa that will allow graduates of British universities to work or look for work for two years after completing their studies[12].

Following 10 years of legal residence in the country on any visas (including Tier 4), a person can apply for permanent residence, and after another year — for citizenship. This method is called long residence and is one of the few options for immigration to the country for non-EU international students.

Employment prospects

  • In the UK. The foreign-born unemployment rate in the country is just 5.1%, which is lower than the average for the European Union — 14.9%[13]. EU-students can easily apply to the EU Settlement Scheme and continue work and study in the UK with British degree. As for overseas student, the procedure for obtaining a work visa used to be quite difficult, but is now greatly simplified. Should a foreign British graduate switch to Tier 2 (General) before the end of Tier 44 месяца после завершения обучения, an employer who wants to hire him no longer needs to advertise the vacancy among the local population (Resident Labor Market Research). Despite this, various sources mention that from 5000 to 7000 people transferred to a work visa, which is slightly more than 1% of all international students[14]. This is largely due to the fact that British citizens do have some priority in employment. Exceptions may concern jobs included in the Shortage Occupation List and some other positions[15].
  • In other countries. Degrees of British universities are highly valued in any country. This is greatly facilitated by the United Kingdom’s participation in the Bologna process. 13 UK universities are among the world’s top 100 institutions for graduate employability[16]. The ranking indicators are graduate employment rate, partnerships with employers, employer reputation, alumni outcomes, and employer-student connections.

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