The English education system

If 'master's' is an unfamiliar term to you, then an introduction to the English education system may help.

The UK has a long history of welcoming international students to study in its universities and colleges. In 2017/18, there were 458,490 students from outside the UK studying in the UK, according to the UK Council for International Student Affairs.

UK universities provide internationally recognised qualifications and teaching standards in the UK are among the best in the world.

Introduction to the English education system

The education system in the UK is different to that in many other countries. At the age of 16, English children take General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) examinations.

Students then transfer to studying A-levels which last for two years and qualify them for entry to university. Students tend to specialise in these courses and often study for three or four A-levels.

Many international school systems are based on one year less at high school and one year more at university compared with the English system. This means that degrees do not last as long in the UK as other countries.

Types of degree


An undergraduate degree normally takes three years to complete but can take longer if it includes an industrial placement, an additional subject or a year abroad. Undergraduate degrees are specialised from Year 1.

Types of undergraduate degree include:

  • BSc (Bachelor of Science) – a science degree
  • BA (Bachelor of Arts) – an arts degree
  • BEng (Bachelor of Engineering) – an engineering degree
  • Undergraduate master’s degree (eg MEng) – an enhanced four-year undergraduate degree including extra subjects studied at a deeper level


Students who receive good grades in their undergraduate degrees may choose to take a master’s degree, which takes a minimum of one year to complete.

Types of master’s degree include:

  • MSc (Master of Science)
  • MA (Master of Arts)
  • MEd (Master of Education)
  • LLM (Master of Law)
  • MBA (Master of Business Administration)

Taught master's degrees

Taught master’s courses usually involve six months of intensive tuition followed by six months of project work that ends with a dissertation.

Masters degrees by research (MPhil)

Research degrees involve at least one year, sometimes more, of full-time research resulting in an examined thesis.


If you would like to continue to study for a PhD, you will have to conduct a minimum of two years' research after the award of your MSc.

In some subject areas a student may transfer from BSc/BA/BEng to PhD so that they follow a three-year research programme for PhD without first obtaining a master's degree.