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UK higher education system 

The UK education system is known for high-quality teaching and research. Degrees are globally respected, and high achieving graduates are some of the most sought after in the world. 

How does the higher education system in the UK work? 

Higher education is the level of education that follows secondary school education in the UK. Students are usually at least 18 years old when they start their first degree at university. 

The British education system at university has three levels:

  • Undergraduate
  • Postgraduate 
  • PhD

Undergraduate degrees

An undergraduate degree is the first level of study at university. Bachelors degrees take at least three or four years to complete if you are studying a full-time honours degree. The most common Bachelors degree qualifications are BA (Bachelor of Arts) and BSc (Bachelor of Science). They reflect the level and discipline of the university qualification. Some degrees include working for one year in the workplace (usually in your third year). 

Postgraduate degrees

Postgraduate degrees are a more advanced level of higher education after Bachelors, for example a Masters degree and PhD. Masters degrees typically take one or two years to complete for full-time students. Postgraduate degrees are research-based with more independent study compared to a Bachelors. The most common Masters degree qualifications are MA (Masters of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences) and MSc (Master of Sciences). 

College systems 

Traditional collegiate systems at UK universities are rare and only found among a handful of institutions, for example Cambridge, Oxford and Durham. University colleges offer a place to live and socialise with access to support, facilities and sporting activities. Each has its own character and history. This creates strong individual communities within the larger student body. Find out more about the University Colleges at Durham University. 

Teaching and learning

Research-led education is at the core of the UK’s most respected universities. You can study a wide range of degree subjects at both undergraduate and postgraduate level at UK universities. Teaching is delivered by world-class academics who are passionate about their subjects. Teaching involves a mixture of lectures, seminars and tutorials. Independent study, practical work and debates are also key features.


The type of assessment depends on your degree and university. Assessment may include written exams, project reports, presentations, essays and a dissertation. The university grading system usually uses percentages. Your final overall percentage will determine your degree classification.

University degree classifications are:

  • First class
  • Upper Second-Class
  • Lower Second-Class
  • Third-Class

Teaching at Durham University

Benefits of studying in the UK

Prestigious universities

There are 16 UK universities ranked in the top 100 universities of the world, including Durham (QS World University Rankings 2022). Durham University is 6th in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022. University lecturers are leaders in their fields, and prestigious Russell Group universities such as Durham University use a progressive, research-led approach. 90% of subjects at Durham University are ranked in the UK top 10 – Complete University Guide 2022.

Long history of success

The UK is home to some of the world’s oldest and most respected universities – founded in 1837, Durham University is the third oldest in England.

Career development

Career preparation is an important part of university life. Universities such as Durham have a structured development programme to help you meet your career goals stand out in the graduate market.

Barbara Gill Head of Subject

Meet your Tutors

As well as teaching business, I've worked in business and I enjoy applying my knowledge from the industry in the classroom and using my experience to help students understand how business operates. We give students the theory and then apply it to a real company. It’s important that students leave here with a good grasp of business, so I try to use real examples from my past.

Barbara Gill
Head of Subject (Business, Economics, Accounting and Finance)
Durham University International Study Centre

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Our pathway programmes prepare you for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree at Durham University. Choose from the International Foundation Year, Pre-Masters and English Language Preparation programmes.

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You can choose from a wide range of degrees at Durham University once you complete your pathway programme at the International Study Centre.

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Find out more about applying to study in the UK, such as visa information and entry requirements.