Masters Study in the United Kingdom (UK)
Why study for a Masters degree in the UK?
The UK offers students the opportunity to gain an internationally recognised and respected academic qualification, whilst at the same time experiencing life in a culturally rich and diverse environment.
UK Higher Education is renowned for the quality of its teaching and research. Many of the leading UK universities boast world-class research facilities and produce research of the highest standard, enabling both taught and research students to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of some of the world’s most acclaimed specialists. To find out more about the UK higher education system, click here.
British universities encourage students to think creatively and independently in a stimulating learning environment, providing them with the confidence, knowledge and ability to excel in their chosen career. Employers across the world recognise and value the quality of a UK university education.
Studying and living in the UK also provides international students with an excellent opportunity to improve their English language skills, further enhancing their future employability.
The quality of teaching in UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) is rigorously assessed by the British Government's Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). Subject areas and departments at each university are assessed on criteria such as curriculum design, assessment, student support, learning resources etc. Subjects are then given a rating of “Excellent”, “Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory”, and departments are given a score out of 24 (with anything over 22 considered as excellent).
The strength of research activity in UK university departments is assessed on a regular basis. Until 2008, the system used was the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). This has now been replaced with the Research Excellence Framework (REF) which ran for the first time in 2014. The results for the first REF will be published in late 2014, but data from the 2008 RAE is available online.
Under the RAE and the REF, research is rated on a scale of “unclassified” – “4*”, with definitions of each category as follows:
|4*||Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.|
|3*||Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which nonetheless falls short of the highest standards of excellence.|
|2*||Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.|
|1*||Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.|
|Unclassified||Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.|
In order to calculate an overall report, the REF assesses Higher Education Institutions according to three sub-profiles, each of which has a different weighting in the calculation of the overall score. These REF sub-profiles are Outputs (65%), Impact (20%) and Environment (15%).
- Outputs are productions of published research. They can take various forms, according to the eligibility criteria defined for different subject-areas. Published books and articles, conference proceedings and intellectual property are examples of outputs.
- Impact measures the effect of research outside the academy, including public engagement and education, improvements to public health and welfare, economic benefits and changes to social policy. Impact is usually assessed using submitted case-studies.
- Environment assesses the quality of research structures and organisational units within higher education instutions. It can cover areas such as staff development, departmental cooperation and research strategy as well as the effective supervision and training of research students. Environment can therefore be an important criteria from the point of view of prospective Masters and PhD students.
The scale used to assess these sub-profiles is similar to that used in the overall report, running from 'unclassified' to 4*. Criteria and definitions for each level of the scale are altered as appropriate to each sub-profile. You can visit the official REF2014 website for more information on these processes.
Entry requirements for UK Masters degrees
Entry requirements differ at each university. Typically, those universities with higher rankings will have higher entry requirements. For entry onto taught Masters programmes, most universities would require a good first degree and evidence of English language ability (see below).
Students who have not been educated in English would usually be required have an internationally recognised English language qualification such as IELTS or TOEFL before joining the university. The exact English requirements will depend on the university and course, but typically range from IELTS 5.5 to IELTS 7.5 (TOEFL 525-625).
Students who have been educated in English are often able to submit high school English qualifications (eg. IGCSE or O-level) instead of IELTS or TOEFL. Most universities would require the equivalent to a grade C at GCSE level to satisfy these conditions.
English Language preparation programmes
Students who do not meet the minimum English language requirements have the option of taking an English Language preparation programme. Many universities offer intensive English Language summer schools, specifically designed to help students reach the required English level for their chosen academic programme. These courses usually range from 4-16 weeks. Alternatively, there are several private English Language schools across the country which can offer English preparation courses. Students taking these courses should check that this will be accepted by their chosen university.
Students who do not meet the minimum academic entry requirements for their chosen course may have the option of taking a pre-Masters programme. These programmes are designed to prepare students for postgraduate study in the UK. Some universities run their own pre-Masters programmes, while others may work in partnership with specialist colleges.