The UK higher education system

Find out more about the UK's well-respected higher education system, including the types of qualifications available, and the UK academic year timetable.

Graduates throwing their mortar boards in the air The UK academic year

Most UK universities follow the same educational timetable as the UK's schools - with the school year beginning in September or October and finishing in June or July. Often universities also follow the idea of having three terms a year, beginning in September / October, January and May. Some universities have moved towards the American concept of two "semesters" a year however, starting in September / October and January. Whichever university you choose to approach though, you will find the majority of courses begin in the autumn months.

Once you have decided that the UK is the right choice for you, you then have to choose from the multitude of educational options. Below we have given you an idea of the choices available and what they involve:

Foundation courses

In addition to the main types of qualifications, some colleges and universities run special foundation courses, commonly known as 'Year 0' programmes, targeted at students who wish to enter specific subject areas such as science and engineering, but who do not possess the relevant entry qualifications.

Diplomas and HNDs

Two year Higher National Diploma (HND) or Diploma of Higher Education courses are both popular qualifications in their own right, however some students choose to top up these qualifications into a degree often by staying on for an extra year.

Bachelor / undergraduate degrees

These are three year degree courses - leading to awards such as Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BSc). These are more often than not undergraduate (or 'first degree') courses.

Master's / postgraduate degrees

Master's degrees are four year degree courses, often sandwich courses involving one year in industry or abroad, etc. You can also get a master's degree by doing a one year course after completing an undergraduate degree. These are classed as postgraduate degrees.

The MBA (Master of Business Administration) is the world's most popular postgraduate degree, and the UK produces the highest number of MBAs outside North America.


Another type of master's degree is the MRes, (Master in Research) which is designed to prepare students for doctoral research. A doctorate is the next (and highest) qualification you can reach in the UK, usually taking three to four years to complete. Intake for these courses is normally from those with a very good first degree or more commonly from those with a master's degree.