Home Education Higher Education Top universities in the UK
Last update on September 19, 2019

If you’ve decided to further your education at one of the UK universities you’ll need to look into related topic such as tuition fees to see how much you’ll be expected to pay. This guide provides further information about some of the best Universities in the UK and the qualifications you can work towards achieving.

Universities in the UK attract more than a quarter of a million international students, and with high education standards, a global reputation, a wide range of courses and a variety of bursaries and scholarships on offer, it’s no surprise that many international students see the UK as the top destination for higher education. Before enroling on a course of your choice, discover more about how much you can be expected to pay for UK university tuition fees.

Top universities in the UK

The UK dominates the Times top universities in Europe rankings, with six universities making it into the top ten. The top seven establishments that have achieved a high UK university ranking are:

Oxford (1st),
> Cambridge (2nd),
> Imperial College London (3rd)
> University College London (5th)
> London School of Economics and Political Science (6th)
> University of Edinburgh (7th)

UK university ranking

Oxford University also finished top of the Times higher education world rankings for 2016-2017.

Types of universities in the UK

In total there are 127 universities in the UK. This figure comprises what are known as the ‘red brick’ universities – older, prestigious universities founded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and usually located in major cities, modern campus universities (which became popular in the 1960s and 1970s), specialist colleges and newer universities (previously known as polytechnics).

University qualifications in the UK

Universities in the UK boast a range of flexible learning options, from full-time studies to evening classes and distance learning – where students can study online and then attend the university to complete their examinations. Standard degree types include bachelor degrees (the most common types are Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science), a variety of postgraduate degrees (including Master’s degrees) and PhDs. Many UK universities offer grants, scholarships and discounts to students who stay on to progress beyond bachelor degree level.

Applying to one of the UK universities

If you’re thinking of applying to a University in the UK, you’ll need to sign up to UCAS (the University and Colleges Admissions Service), as all applications are made through this system.

UCAS is a useful tool for students to manage their applications and keep all of their UK university selections and exam results in one place. UCAS deadlines vary depending on whether you’re an EU or non-EU student, but it pays to apply as early as possible to give yourself the best possible chance of securing a place.

While using UCAS can sometimes be confusing, the basic steps are as follows:

  1. Register with UCAS. You’ll need to provide details of where you currently study, the qualifications you’re currently studying for, and in some cases your predicted grades.
  2. Next, you need to work out what course you’d like to study. In total, there are over 100,000 courses available at Universities in the UK, so there’s plenty of research to be done. All courses come with a unique UCAS code, and you’ll need to use these codes on your application form.
  3. Next, you need to choose some universities. You can apply to up to five universities (but don’t worry if you have your heart set on one, as you can choose your first choice and ‘insurance’ choices later). There’s lots you’ll need to consider when choosing a university, including its reputation in your subject area, location, quality of life and how hard it is to to secure a place.
  4. Next, fill out the application form. The centrepiece of this is your personal statement, in which you should explain your background and your reasons for applying for the course.
  5. You can now send your application off and wait for responses from universities. Some universities will invite you for interviews, before offering you either a ‘conditional’ place (subject to you achieving certain grades) or an ‘unconditional’ one (with no restrictions).

Grants and scholarships for universities in the UK

There are various scholarships available to students looking to study in the UK. Many are operated by UK universities, while others are funded by your home country. Some scholarships cover tuition fees only and others also offer funding for your living costs while studying.

UK universities

The Education UK website provides a list of scholarships and grants available at English universities, while the Scottish government and Study in Wales websites do so for Scotland and Wales respectively. Some EU students could be eligible for tuition fee loans and help with living costs from the UK government. Further information is available on the government website.

UK university tuition fees

Universities in the UK charge different fees for ‘home’ and ‘overseas’ students.

Most EU citizens qualify for home status. If you’re from an EU country, you must have been a resident in a country from the European Economic Area (or Switzerland) for at least three years before the first day of your academic course. The rules can get complicated, so it’s worth checking out the UKCISA website for full details.

UK universities have a £9,000 annual cap on tuition fees for undergraduate students who qualify as ‘home students’, and while some continue to charge below this figure, many now charge the full amount.

Fees for overseas students vary significantly from around £3,500 per year to £18,000 per year, depending on the course and the university you’re studying at. To find out the exact fee for your course, you’ll need to contact the university directly.

Student accommodation at universities in the UK

Student accommodation varies between UK universities, but international students are usually offered several options. With the best spaces usually taken on a first-come-first-served basis, you should start looking for accommodation as soon as possible after confirming your place at the University.

The main types of university accommodation are as follows:

  • University halls: Most students live in university halls in their first year. Usually, you’ll have a private bedroom on a corridor with 8-10 other students. Some bedrooms will have en-suite bathrooms and others will have shared facilities. If you are in ‘catered’ accommodation, you’ll usually have access to a canteen in your building or one nearby.
  • Self catered halls: Some overseas students (and many postgraduate students returning to live at the university) choose to live in self-catered university accommodation. This accommodation is similar to university halls but often has a calmer atmosphere, and a larger kitchen to cook your meals.
  • Most students move into flats or houses outside of the university after their first year. This is a more expensive option than living in university halls but offers you greater freedom.

Best universities in the UK

Visas to live and study in the UK & language skills for admission to a UK university

If you’re from an EEA country or are a Swiss national, you won’t need to get a visa to study in the UK. Students from outside the EU, however, will need to apply for a Tier 4 student visa. Visas usually take up to 15 days to arrive, but you can apply up to three months before your course starts.

To apply for a visa, you’ll need to include your passport number on your UCAS application form and you may need to prove your English skills, either through a Secure English language test (SELT) or Skype interview. If you’re asked to sit a SELT, you’ll need to do it in a centre approved by the UK Home Office.

Working while you’re a studying at one of the best universities in the UK

It’s common for students to take on a part-time job while studying in the UK, either on campus (for example at a shop or bar) or elsewhere in the town/city.

If you’re from an EEA country, you can work in the UK without requiring a visa. If you’re a non-EU student and already have a Tier 4 Visa, you can work for up to 20 hours a week if you’re studying at degree level or above. You can find out full details on the UKCISA website.

Student life at UK universities

Adjusting to life studying in the UK needn’t be too much of a hassle, provided you can put up with a bit of rain now and then. UK universities are very social, with lots of societies and activities available to immerse yourself in. If you’re worried about settling at the university, these can be a great way of meeting new people and feeling part of a community.

List of top universities in the UK

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