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Masters Study in the UK - A Guide for 2019

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.

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Postgraduate opportunities in the United Kingdom – what’s on offer for 2019?

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:

  • World-class universities – Several British universities are frequently ranked among the very best in the world.
  • Cultural institutions – Wherever you choose to study in the UK, you’ll likely be within reach of outstanding museums, galleries and libraries. From the V&A in London to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow and the National Railway Museum in York, there’s no shortage of cultural attractions in the UK.
  • Postgraduate loans – Despite Brexit, the UK’s system of postgraduate loans is open to EU nationals for courses beginning in the 2019-20 academic year.
  • Funding opportunities – There are a number of funding opportunities for international students in the UK, including Chevening Scholarships and Commonwealth Scholarships.
  • Internationally-recognised degrees – UK Masters are recognised and respected across the world.

Masters Study in the United Kingdom - Key Details
Universities 164
Oldest University University of Oxford (1096)
International Students 432,001
Course Length 1-2 years
Average Fees £7,000-8,000
Academic Year September to June

What's it like to study abroad in the United Kingdom?

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.

British universities

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

Universities in England

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 £10,609 from the UK Government.

Find out more in our guide to English postgraduate loans.

Universities in Scotland

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.

Universities in Wales

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 a £13,000 loan from Student Finance Wales.

Find out more in our guide to Welsh postgraduate loans.

Universities in Northern Ireland

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.

University accreditation

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.

The Bologna Process

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.

British university rankings

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.


Top 25 UK Universities in 2019
University THE 2019 QS 2019 ARWU 2018
University of Oxford 1 5 7
University of Cambridge 2 6 3
Imperial College London 9 8 24
University College London 14 10 17
London School of Economics and Political Science 26 38 151-200
University of Edinburgh 29 18 32
King's College London 38 31 56
University of Manchester 57 29 34
University of Bristol 78 51 74
University of Warwick =79 54 101-150
University of Glasgow =93 =69 151-200
University of Sheffield 106 =75 101-150
Durham University =114 74 201-300
University of Birmingham =116 =79 101-150
University of Southampton 118 96 101-150
University of York 119 134 301-400
Queen Mary University of London 130 119 151-200
University of Exeter 141 =154 151-200
Lancaster University =146 131 301-400
University of Nottingham =149 82 101-150
University of Leeds =153 =93 101-150
University of Aberdeen 158 =172 201-300
University of Sussex =161 227 201-300
University of St Andrews 165 97 301-400
University of Leicester =167 =223 201-300
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.

How do rankings work for Masters study?

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.

British university cities

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:

Course types

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.

ECTS credits in the UK

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.

Academic Masters degrees

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 degrees

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:

Business Masters degree are also common at UK universities, with many international students choosing to study a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Masters in Management (MiM).

You can find out more about UK postgraduate qualifications in our guide to the different types of Masters degree.

Search for a Masters in the United Kingdom

Ready to start looking for your ideal study abroad opportunity? Browse and compare Masters degrees in the United Kingdom on FindAMasters.com

Masters fees and funding in the United Kingdom

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.

How much does a Masters cost in the UK?

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.


Average UK Masters degree fees
Type E.g. UK / EU Overseas
Classroom MA (Arts / Social Sciences) £7,392 £14,620
Laboratory MSc (Science / Engineering) £8,167 £16,222
Clinical MSc (Medicine / Dentistry) £12,912 £22,732
Research MRes / MPhil £4,000+ £10,000+
Business MBA £18,410 £19,924

*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.


Funding

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.

Find out more about UK Masters fees and funding

If you’d like to learn more about how fees and funding work in the UK, we’ve written dedicated guides to funding opportunities for international students, as well as international postgraduate fees.

Applying for a Masters in the United Kingdom

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.

English language requirements

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.

Find out more about entry requirements for UK Masters

We’ve written a guide to Masters degree entry requirements, covering academic qualifications, language proficiency and more.

Masters student visas in the United Kingdom

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals can currently study in the UK without a visa.

If you’re not an EU, EEA or Swiss national, you’ll need a Tier 4 visa to study a Masters in the UK. In order to be accepted onto a Tier 4 visa, you’ll need:

  • To have been accepted for a place on a full-time or part-time postgraduate course (Ofqual level 7 or above) at a UK university with Tier 4 Sponsor status
  • The required level of English language proficiency for your Masters
  • Enough financial support to pay your tuition fees and living costs during your Masters

There is also a £348 application fee for a Tier 4 visa. For more information, read our full guide to UK visas for postgraduate students.

Health insurance

It’s important to have adequate health insurance while studying in the UK. EU, EEA and Swiss nationals can apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which will entitle them to the same level of access to NHS services as a UK national.

If you’re applying for Tier 4 student visa, you’ll need to pay an annual NHS surcharge of £150 as part of your visa application.

Whatever your situation, 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).

Working during a Masters

If you’re an EU, EEA or Swiss national, you can work in the UK without any restrictions during your Masters.

If you hold a Tier 4 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:

  • A trainee doctor
  • A professional sportsperson
  • An entertainer
  • Entrepreneurial activity
  • Self-employment
  • Full-time, permanent roles

For more information, read our guide to working in the UK as an international student.

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA)

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.

Next steps

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.

Working in the UK after graduation

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals are entitled to seek full-time work in the UK after finishing their Masters.

However, if you aren’t a European national, you’ll need to apply for a visa if you want to begin your career in the UK. The main work visa is the Tier 2 visa, which requires that applicants:

  • Hold a recent degree (Bachelors, Masters or PhD) from a recognised UK university
  • Have been offered a skilled job with a salary of at least £20,800 by a licensed employer

If you have an excellent business idea, you could also apply for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa, which is aimed at talented entrepreneurs with sponsorship from their university.

PhD study in the UK

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.

Search for a Masters in the United Kingdom

Ready to start looking for your ideal study abroad opportunity? Browse and compare Masters degrees in the United Kingdom on FindAMasters.com

Last updated - 15/03/2019

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