Higher education in United Kingdom
Higher education in UK is provided by Higher Education (HE) colleges, university colleges, universities and private colleges. Students normally enter higher education as undergraduates from age 18 onwards, and can study for a wide variety of vocational and academic qualifications, including certificates of higher educationand higher national certificates at level 4, diplomas of higher education, higher national diplomas and foundation degrees at level 5, bachelor’s degrees (normally with honours) at level 6, and integrated master’s degrees and degrees in medicine, dentistry, and veterinary science at level 7.
Historically, undergraduate education outside a small number of private colleges and universities has been largely state-financed since the 1960s, with a small contribution from top-up fees introduced in the 1990s, however fees of up to £9,000 per annum have been charged from October 2012. There is a perceived hierarchy among universities, with the Russell Group seen as being composed of the country’s more prestigious universities. League tables of universities are produced by private companies and generally cover the whole UK.
The state does not control university syllabuses, but it does influence admission procedures through the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), which approves and monitors access agreements to safeguard and promote fair access to higher education. The independent Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education inspects universities to assure standards, advises on the granting of degree awarding powers and University title, and maintains the Quality Code for Higher Education, which includes the Framework for Higher Education Qualification.Unlike most degrees, the state has control over teacher training courses, and standards are monitored by Ofsted inspectors.
The typical first degree offered at English universities is the bachelor’s degree with honours, which usually lasts for three years, although more vocational foundation degrees, typically lasting two years (or full-time equivalent) are also available in some institutions. Many institutions now offer an integrated master’s degree, particularly in STEM subjects, as a first degree, which typically lasts for four years, the first three years running parallel to the bachelor’s course. During a first degree students are known as undergraduates. The difference in fees between integrated and
traditional postgraduate master’s degrees (and that fees are capped at the first degree level for the former) makes taking an integrated master’s degree as a first degree a more attractive option. Integrated master’s degrees are often the standard route to chartered status for STEM professionals in England.
Students who have completed a first degree can apply for postgraduate and graduate courses. These include: Graduate certificates, graduate diplomas, professional graduate certificate in education – level 6 courses aimed at those who have already completed a bachelor’s degree, often as conversion courses
- Postgraduate certificates, postgraduate diplomas, postgraduate certificate in education – level 7 courses shorter than a full master’s degree
- Master’s degrees (typically taken in one year, though research-based master’s degrees may last for two) – taught or research degrees at level 7
- Doctorates (typically taken in three years) – research degrees at level 8, the top level of the qualifications frameworks, often requiring a master’s degree for entry. These may be purely research based (PhD/DPhil) or research and practice (professional doctorates). “New Route” PhDs, Introduced in 2001, take at least 4 years and incorporate teaching at master’s level. Postgraduate education is not automatically financed by the state.