The chapel of King's College, Cambridge University.
London School of Economics Library Roof
Main article: Universities in the United Kingdom
Students normally enter university from age 18 onwards, and study for an academic degree. Historically, all undergraduate education outside the private University of Buckingham and BPP University College was largely state-financed, with a small contribution from top-up fees, however fees of up to £9,000 per annum will be charged from October 2012. There is a distinct hierarchy among universities, with the Russell Group containing most of the country's more prestigious, research-led and research-focused universities. The state does not control university syllabuses, but it does influence admission procedures through the Office for Fair Access (OfFA), which approves and monitors access agreements to safeguard and promote fair access to higher education. Unlike most degrees, the state still has control over teacher training courses, and uses its Ofsted inspectors to maintain standards.
The typical first degree offered at English universities is the bachelor's degree, and usually lasts for three years. Many institutions now offer an undergraduate master's degree as a first degree, which typically lasts for four years. During a first degree students are known as undergraduates. The difference in fees between undergraduate and traditional postgraduate master's degrees (and the possibility of securing LEA funding for the former) makes taking an undergraduate master's degree as a first degree a more attractive option, although the novelty of undergraduate master's degrees means that the relative educational merit of the two is currently unclear.
Some universities offer a vocationally based foundation degree, typically two years in length for those students who hope to continue on to a first degree but wish