Difference Between College And University In UK

Dr Mohammad Shafiq

Difference Between College And University In UK

Difference Between College And University In UK

If you have decided to study in the UK, you might be confused about the difference between college and university in UK. A college is a small institution, whereas a university is a large institution. A university may have a college, like Harvard College, as a part of Harvard University.

A college mainly offers short-term degrees, such as A-levels, HNC/HNDs, and T-levels. In contrast, universities offer undergraduate, postgraduate, and Ph.D. degrees. Besides, they have research resources and professional courses.

Education System in the UK

UK Education System

UK's educational institutions provide world-class, innovative teaching. They offer personalized education. Their well-rounded education has high academic standards and intense research facilities. Besides, they use up-to-date technology, equipment, and resources to provide innovative teaching methods. Their interactive teaching methodology will help you grow academically, personally, and professionally.

Key Stages and Qualifications

Key Stages

Age limit


Early years

From birth to 5 years old

No qualification needed


From 5 years old to 11 years old

No qualification needed


From 11 years old to up to 16 years old

Completed primary education

Further Education (FE)

From 16 years old to 18 years old

Completed secondary education

Higher Education (HE)

No age limit

Completed further education


College in the UK

What is College in the UK?

A college education in the UK means students take their A-Level degree. This is mainly an advanced level qualification on a particular subject before being admitted into a university. Its duration is generally two to three years. Students aged between 16-18 years are eligible for this education.

Types of College

  • Sixth Form College: This special college offers general academic and technical education for students who are 16 to 18 years old. The UK has 44 sixth-form colleges throughout the country. Its course duration is 2 years. It is more flexible and less structured, where students can take different courses based on their needs and interests.
  • Further Education College: There are 158 further education (FE) colleges in the UK, which are funded by the UK government. It mainly focuses on teaching students job-specific skills to boost their employability. This type of college provides higher education-level diplomas. There are many vocational subjects and skills-learning courses in further education colleges.

Focus on Vocational and Practical Education

Many UK colleges offer diplomas and vocational courses in various subjects. These courses help students start their careers in a particular field. Students who have direct entry into the workplace and a faster graduation timeline enrol in these courses. They prefer it for getting credential certification and gaining hands-on work experience.

  • Health and medicine
  • Architecture and Construction
  • Personal Care and Fitness
  • Creative Arts and Design
  • Hair, Beauty & Holistic Therapy
  • Engineering
  • Travel and Hospitality
  • Construction

Pathways to Higher Education

College education in the UK works as a bridge to go for higher levels of education. These two years of education are part of the 12 years of education required to apply for any undergraduate degree in the UK. However, Instead of formal qualifications, some universities accept life and work experiences to study at higher levels of education in the UK.

Scholarship Opportunities and Tuition Fees at Colleges

The average tuition fee for full further education courses is approximately £1,040. Students generally have to pay around £300 per year for access courses. A wide range of scholarship opportunities are available for college-level students, such as:

University in the UK

What is a University in the UK?

Educational institutions offering higher level education, such as undergraduate or postgraduate degrees, are called universities. Students can get various types of bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and diploma degrees from universities.

Types of Universities

  • Russell Group: Universities that offer research-intensive and innovative education are called Russell Group. Currently, there are 24 Russell Group universities in the UK. It has an average completion rate of 95.4%. Besides, 84% of these graduates work for highly skilled jobs. However, there is a high entry requirement for most courses in Russell Group universities.
  • Red Brick: Universities that are known as non-collegiate institutions and focus on "real-world" skills are known as Red Brick universities. There are only six Red Brick universities in the UK. Students who are more interested in science and engineering and want to get technical training can choose a Red-brick university. It has average completion rates of 70%-75%. 
  • Newer Universities: Universities that were established less than 25 years ago in the UK are known as Newer Universities. Around 100+ universities were established in the last three decades. They offer a huge range of diverse courses to develop a solid foundation for the real world.

Emphasis on Academic Education and Research

UK's universities have a highly regarded education standard. Their faculties are experts in their relevant fields. Most importantly, their research activities are 41% world-leading and 43% internationally excellent, according to the latest national assessment of the quality and impact of research. The UK government spends a huge amount of money on research and development, long-term economic growth, and prosperity across the country.

Degree Programs and Specializations

There are more than 65,000 courses offered by various UK educational institutions. UK universities offer a wide range of degree programs and specializations, such as:

  • Bachelor degrees
  • Master degrees
  • Foundation degrees
  • Doctorate
  • Diploma of Higher Education
  • Higher National Certificate
  • Conversion courses

Scholarship Opportunities and Tuition Fees at Universities

An international student has to spend around £22,200 per year to get a degree from a UK university. It will vary based on the course, program, and other things. University students can get merit-based scholarships, need-based financial aid, and subject-specific awards in the UK. But they must fulfil certain criteria to demand the scholarship.

Differences Between College and University

Differences Between College and University

Educational Focus and Curriculum

College-level education in the UK mainly focuses on further education after completing secondary-level education. It covers many basic subjects, such as English, maths, sciences, humanity, and a modern language. Plus, they can choose an optional subject based on their interest, such as sports science, computer science, drama, music, art, etc.

In contrast, university-level education in the UK emphasizes a comprehensive education, focusing on academic depth, research, critical thinking, and practical skills. They offer diverse programs and encourage independent learning, preparing students for varied career paths.

Admission Requirements and Entry Criteria

A student must complete his secondary level education to get admitted into a UK college. He/she must be at least 16 years old to enrol in a further education course. For instance, if you have an Advanced level qualification (known as A level), you must have taken at least two subjects at A level. Students who have completed General Certificate of Secondary Education must have at least two GCSEs

A student must complete the 12th grade of education to enrol in a bachelor's degree in the UK. To be admitted into a master's degree program, you need a bachelor's degree with a minimum score of 60%. If you want to get a PhD degree in the UK, make sure your GPA score is at least 60% for both Bachelor's and Master's degrees.

Academic Structure and Degree Levels

A college-level degree such as A-level or GCSE has mainly two-year programs. The first year of the A level is called half AS-levels. Once you complete the second year, you finish the full A-level program. 

A university-level degree can be different in academic structures, such as:

  • Bachelor's Degrees: three to four years to complete
  • Master's Degrees: one to two years to complete
  • Doctoral Level Research Degrees: at least three years to complete

Campus Facilities and Resources

College-level students get a wide range of campus facilities in their educational institution,  such as classrooms, libraries, laboratories for science subjects, IT facilities, student support services, recreational spaces, etc.

A university student can enjoy various campus facilities in their university, such as social spaces, Libraries, IT and study spaces, IT assistance and security services, cafes and bars, health and wealth facilities, personal affairs facilities, etc.

Transition from College to University in the UK

Once a student completes his/her compulsory education, he/she is admitted into a college for further education. After getting a college degree in the UK, you can either be admitted into a university or enter the job market immediately. People who prefer more well-paid jobs may want a university degree due to more career opportunities.

But if your academic records are good enough to study at a good university in your preferred subject, you can start your job career. Hundreds of jobs are available after 12th grade, such as nursery practitioner, care assistant, residential care worker, housekeeper/cleaner, train delay attribution, arts and crafts volunteer, modelling and data assistant, etc.

College vs University UK

Aspect College University
Educational Focus Provides vocational or specialized courses Offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs, including research opportunities
Degrees Offered Primarily offers vocational diplomas and certificates Offers undergraduate (Bachelor's), postgraduate (Master's, Ph.D.), and research degrees
Size Generally smaller Larger, with a diverse student body and faculty
Autonomy Often affiliated with larger universities or institutions Independent entities with their own governance structures
Research Opportunities Limited research facilities and opportunities Significant research facilities and opportunities, including research grants and funding
Entry Requirements May have more flexible entry requirements Typically have more rigorous entry requirements
Teaching Style Focus on practical skills and hands-on experience Emphasis on theoretical knowledge and research
Community Tight-knit community Diverse and inclusive community with various extracurricular activities
Cost Tuition fees tend to be lower Tuition fees can vary widely and tend to be higher



Now, I believe you have a clear idea about the difference between college and university in UK. College is mainly a pathway for stepping into the university. Achieving good results in college life in the UK is crucial for university admission. It demonstrates academic competence, enhances prospects for preferred courses, and may impact scholarship opportunities. It is important to choose the right college and university so that it can ensure further academic advancement, specialization, and broader career opportunities.

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