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What is higher education?

Find out more about UK higher education (HE) courses and qualifications, and if they’re right for you.
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What is higher education?
An introduction to higher education, explaining its benefits.
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UK higher education (HE) offers a diverse range of courses and qualifications, such as first degrees, Higher National Diplomas (HNDs), and foundation degrees. It includes any qualification at Level 4 and above. A BA or BSc (Hons) degree is a Level 6 qualification. 

It’s all about giving you the inspiration and opportunities to develop your skills and knowledge, the freedom to be creative, and the support you need to achieve your best.

  • UK higher education is world-class – four of the top six universities in the world are in the UK. Over three quarters of research activity at UK universities is rated as world‑leading or internationally excellent.
  • The satisfaction rate for students studying at UK higher education providers remains high, with 86% saying they are satisfied overall with their course in the 2015 National Student Survey.
  • Universities and colleges invest in excellent facilities – from libraries, computer and science labs, to sports centres, theatres and art studios.  Class sizes are restricted to ensure you have access to equipment and enough time to talk to your tutors and lecturers.

Find out more about uni life by watching our videos.  

Most courses are taught in universities, but plenty are taught at colleges, and specialist course providers such as conservatoires, business schools and agricultural colleges.

You can study full-time or  part-time. There are also distance and blended learning courses, as well as many accelerated degree programmes.  


Who’s it for?

In 2015 there were 2.27 million students studying at UK higher education providers.

The majority of UK undergraduate students are aged 17-19: higher education has a lot to offer all young people  it’s not just for those predicted top grades in academic subjects.

  • Participation in higher education is growing and expanding – there’s been a 38% increase in applicants since 2006.
  • It’s not just academic subjects you need … around 95% of universities currently accept BTECs for entry, and for over 70% of degree subjects.
  • There’s been a 42% increase in students from disadvantaged areas studying full-time degrees since 2005.
  • In 2015 over half of applicants to higher education received four or more offers, and almost a third had five offers to choose between. The majority of applicants are placed at their first choice destination.

The UK attracts more international students than any other country outside the USA. UK universities and colleges are diverse, multicultural, creative and welcoming to over 430,000 international students every year, from over 180 countries. 

Around one quarter of the UK’s full-time undergraduate entrants are mature students (aged 20 years and over). For many, higher education is their route to a career change or career development, or simply to have the opportunity to study, which they missed out on earlier in life.