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The United Kingdom’s higher education system is world-famous, with a long and proud history of academic excellence. It’s no secret that studying a Masters in the UK is a popular choice for people from across the globe. International postgraduates are drawn by the UK’s renowned universities, bustling cities and picturesque countryside.
This page covers essential information about Masters degrees in the UK, from fees and funding opportunities to British universities and course applications.
The United Kingdom is second only to the USA as the most popular study abroad destination in the world, welcoming over 430,000 international students each year. Its higher education system is as diverse as the country itself, ranging from ancient universities in Oxford and Cambridge to modern, innovative institutions. The UK is also unique in that it consists of four nations with their own distinct university systems: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
We’ve listed just a handful of the best reasons why should you consider the UK for your Masters this year:
|Masters Study in the United Kingdom - Key Details|
|Oldest University||University of Oxford (1096)|
|Course Length||1-2 years|
|Academic Year||September to June|
Want to know more about life for international students in the United Kingdom? Our detailed guide covers everything from accommodation and living costs to culture and entertainment.
Most higher education institutions in the UK are public universities, which means that they receive a proportion of their funding from central government. Universities must demonstrate the quality of their research and teaching activities to receive public funds. However, public universities enjoy a great deal of institutional autonomy, being free to invest and generate income as they see fit.
Even among public universities, there is great variation. Not necessarily in quality but in terms of the number of programmes offered, expertise available and connections to industry. Universities can range in size from over 30,000 students to just a few hundred. Some have their own campus while others are based in the heart of a city.
Private institutions awarding postgraduate degrees also exist in the UK. They tend to focus on specific areas such as Business, Management and Law. These institutions may not always have the power to award their own degrees, instead using an affiliated accredited university.
As you probably already know, the UK is made up of four nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These countries have their own distinct higher education systems and varying levels of control over policy, fees and funding. Although universities across the UK don’t differ wildly in quality, it’s worth getting to grips with those other aspects of the university experience – particularly the availability of postgraduate finance
England is the largest country in the UK and is home to most of its universities (as well as the oldest: the University of Oxford, established in 1096).
If you’re an EU national who has lived in the EEA (or Switzerland) for the past three years and are intending to study at an English university, you may be eligible for a postgraduate loan of up to £11,222 from the UK Government.
Find out more in our guide to English postgraduate loans.
Scotland has a long and proud history of higher education, with several ancient universities dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries (the University of St Andrews was founded in 1413). These institutions – which also include the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen – often award an MLitt (Master of Letters) instead of the MA (Master of Arts) usually offered at universities elsewhere in the UK (MAs at these Scottish institutions are typically awarded as integrated four-year undergraduate degrees, rather than separate postgraduate qualifications)’.
The Scottish Government has control over education in the country and is free to set its own funding arrangements through the Students Award Agency for Scotland (SAAS).
If you’re an EU national who has lived in the EEA or Switzerland for the past three years, you may be eligible for a loan of up to £5,500 from the Scottish Government towards your tuition fees at a Scottish university. Unfortunately, living cost loans are only available to UK students who live in Scotland.
Find out more in our guide to Scottish postgraduate loans.
There are around 26,000 international students at Wales’ diverse range of universities, from city centre institutions like Cardiff University to campus-based Swansea University and Aberystwyth University.
Like Scotland, Wales also has its own postgraduate funding arrangements through Student Finance Wales. If you’re an EU national planning to study a Masters in Wales, you may be eligible for funding of up to £17,000 from Student Finance Wales, taking the form of a combination of loans and grants.
Find out more in our guide to Welsh postgraduate loans.
There are two universities in Northern Ireland – Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University – as well as several colleges offering higher education programmes.
Postgraduate loans in Northern Ireland are provided by Student Finance Northern Ireland. If you’re an EU student wishing to study a Masters in Northern Ireland, you may be eligible for a £5,500 postgraduate loan. Unlike the rest of the UK, this loan can be used to study a Postgraduate Certificate or a Postgraduate Diploma or as a Masters degree.
Find out more in our guide to Northern Irish postgraduate loans.
In the UK, a degree-level qualification can only be awarded by permission from the Secretary of State, a Royal Charter or an Act of Parliament. This helps you to identify the list of recognised institutions. Universities and some colleges can award degree-level qualifications, but if you are looking to pursue a Masters or a PhD you are more likely to study at a university. There are exceptions, such as arts colleges and business schools – some of which are autonomous, while others are constituents of universities.
There are two types of 'accreditations' – institution-level and qualification-level – often dealt with by completely different organisations. For example, for a recognised university to be able to award a medical degree or a teacher’s qualification, it will need the appropriate professional body accreditation. In any case, all bodies that award UK degrees are subject to a regular external quality assurance reviews by the Quality Assurance Agency UK (QAA).
You can see a full list of accredited British universities on the UK Government’s website.
UK Masters and PhD degrees are compatible with the Bologna Process, which means that there is recognition and equivalence between UK degrees and those of other countries within the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Find out more about the Bologna Process.
There are 11 British universities in the top 100 of the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, with the University of Oxford holding the top spot (there are similar results in the QS World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities). This means that the UK has more world-class universities than anywhere else in Europe (and is second only to the USA globally).
We’ve listed the top 25 British universities in the table below, but you can also read our full guide to UK university rankings.
|University||THE 2021||QS 2021||ARWU 2020|
|University of Oxford||1||5||9|
|University of Cambridge||6||7||3|
|Imperial College London||11||8||25|
|London School of Economics and Political Science||27||49||151-200|
|University of Edinburgh||30||20||42|
|King's College London||35||=31||47|
|University of Manchester||=51||=27||36|
|University of Warwick||77||62||101-150|
|University of Bristol||91||58||64|
|University of Glasgow||=92||=77||151-200|
|University of Birmingham||=107||87||101-150|
|Queen Mary University of London||110||=114||201-300|
|University of Sheffield||=121||=93||101-150|
|University of Southampton||=127||90||101-150|
|University of York||=133||=150||201-300|
|University of Nottingham||=158||99||101-150|
|University of Leeds||=160||91||101-150|
|University of Sussex||=160||=246||151-200|
|University of Liverpool||163||=181||101-150|
|University of Leicester||=170||=242||301-400|
|University of Exeter||=174||164||151-200|
|University of Aberdeen||=178||207||201-300|
|Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.|
International rankings use all sorts of metrics to assess universities and they aren't all equally relevant to postgraduate study. That's why we've put together a guide to university rankings for Masters students.
Whether you’re looking to attend a university in a bustling metropolis like Manchester or a quaint seaside town like St Andrews, there’s plenty to choose from in the UK. Chances are you’ll be able to find the perfect place to study your Masters.
These are some of the most popular postgraduate destinations in the UK:
The UK higher education system encompasses many different kinds of qualification at Masters level, ranging from academic programmes to more practical, vocational postgraduate courses. Most programmes require one year of full-time study (90 ECTS), although research-based Masters are usually two years long.
UK universities use the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) to measure the workload for Masters programmes, with most degrees worth 180 CATS points. It’s easy to convert CATS points into ECTS points: one ECTS point is worth two CATS points. Find out more about the European Credit and Transfer System.
In the UK, academic Masters degrees involve advanced study of a subject that you may have had experience of at undergraduate level, allowing you to specialise in a certain topic within the discipline.
They can be divided into two broad types: taught programmes, which are generally more structured, and research Masters, which require a greater amount of independent research. Find out more about the difference between taught and research Masters.
These are the main kinds of academic Masters qualifications:
Professional Masters qualifications are a great way of preparing yourself for a specific job or sector. More vocational in nature than the academic Masters listed above, these programmes often involve a work placement of some kind.
Popular types of professional Masters include:
You can find out more about UK postgraduate qualifications in our guide to the different types of Masters degree.
British universities charge different fees depending on your nationality. If you’re a British or EU national, you’ll generally be charged ‘home’ fees at a lower rate. If you don’t fall into either of those categories, you’ll usually be treated as an international student and charged for your Masters at a higher overseas rate. There are exceptions to this rule, however – we’ve covered these in detail elsewhere.
We’ve done some number-crunching and worked out the average fees for the main types of Masters in the UK, both in terms of home rates and overseas rates.
You can find out more in our guide to the cost of a Masters, which includes information on living costs as well as other fees associated with completing postgraduate studies in the UK.
|Type||E.g.||UK / EU||Overseas|
|Classroom||MA (Arts / Social Sciences)||£7,946||£15,097|
|Laboratory||MSc (Science / Engineering)||£8,860||£17,493|
|Research||MRes / MPhil||£4,000+||£10,000+|
*Based on the most recent survey of UK postgraduate fees, published by the Times Higher Education magazine, as well as additional research and calculation by FindAMasters. Figures given are broad averages only and will not necessarily reflect fees for specific courses.
If you’re studying in the UK, there are a range of funding opportunities open to you, depending on your personal circumstances:
Our guide to UK Masters funding for international postgraduates covers these and other opportunities in more detail.
The application process for a Masters in the UK depends on the course and institution. Most of the time, you’ll apply directly to the academic department in question (although some universities use UCAS Postgraduate, a centralised system).
In general, a postgraduate application will involve completing and supplying the following documents:
In some cases, you may have to attend a postgraduate interview, either in person or via Skype. You might also have to complete a graduate entry test, although these aren’t as common in the UK as they are elsewhere in the anglosphere.
If English isn’t your first language, you’ll normally have to supply proof of your proficiency in English when making a Masters application. This might not be the case if you studied your undergraduate degree in an English-speaking country.
You can usually find out exactly what score you need by checking the course description (if in doubt, ask the admissions team at your chosen university).
These are the four main types of English language test:
Our guide to English language tests has more information on typical scores and how to prepare for your exam.
If you’re an international student, you’ll usually need a student visa to study a Masters in the UK. In order to be accepted onto a student visa, you’ll need:
There is also a £348 application fee for a student visa. For more information, read our full guide to UK visas for postgraduate students.
It’s important to have adequate health insurance while studying in the UK. If you’re applying for a student visa, you’ll need to pay an annual NHS surcharge of £470 as part of your visa application.
It’s also a good idea to have some form of private health insurance to cover unexpected costs that wouldn’t otherwise be covered by the NHS (such as your repatriation in the event of an emergency).
If you hold a student visa, you can work in the UK for 20 hours a week during term time and an unrestricted number of hours during the holidays. However, there are certain types of job you can’t do, including:
For more information, read our guide to working in the UK as an international student.
UKCISA is a national advisory body that gives a wealth of independent advice and guidance to international students in the UK, covering everything from immigration and employment to culture shock and opening a bank account.
After finishing your UK Masters degree, you’ll have an accredited postgraduate qualification from one of the most well-known and respected higher education systems in the world. Whether you want to go straight into work or carry on your studies with a PhD, you’ll be in an excellent position to make the most of your Masters.
In 2019, the UK Government announced a new visa scheme for international students to remain in the UK and look for employment after their studies have finished.
Known as the Graduate Route, this programme is available for anyone holding a Tier 4 or student visa who finishes a UK degree in the summer of 2021 and beyond. It allows you to stay in the UK for two years after you graduate, with no restrictions on the work you do (or the salary level).
Once the two-year period is up, you’ll need to apply for another visa to remain in the UK (usually this will be the Tier 2 visa).
Find out more about Graduate Route post-study work visas over on our blog.
If you have an excellent business idea, you could also apply for a Start-up visa, which is aimed at talented entrepreneurs with sponsorship from their university or from a business organisation.
The UK’s world-class universities make for a great place to continue your studies with a PhD. If you’d like to find out more about studying a PhD in the UK, visit our sister site FindAPhD for a full introduction.
Last updated - 26/11/2020