Information about UK higher education degrees and recognised awarding bodies.
The UK has a well-deserved reputation world-wide for providing high quality and well-respected higher education. There are well over 100 institutions in the UK that are permitted to award a wide variety of degrees to suit most educational aspirations.
All those institutions have degree awarding powers recognised by the UK authorities (UK and Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies).
In addition to institutions awarding degrees, there are also several hundred colleges and other institutions which do not have degree-awarding powers but who provide complete courses leading to recognised UK degrees. Courses at these institutions are validated by institutions which have degree awarding powers.
The growth of the internet has enabled UK institutions to make information on their courses available to a global audience.
This growth and the need for more flexible provision, opening higher education up to a wider group of people means that many universities and colleges now offer their degrees through distance learning.
The UK authorities recognise those institutions which have been granted degree-awarding powers by either a Royal Charter, Act of Parliament or the Privy Council. These are known as ‘recognised bodies’. All UK universities and some higher education colleges are recognised bodies.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) register of higher education providers lists higher education (HE) providers, which have particular relationships to government (or bodies related to government) in England. It sets out the powers they have (including degree awarding powers where relevant), and the regulatory controls which apply to them. The information in the register is regularly updated.
Other institutions, which do not have the power to award their own degrees, may provide full courses which lead to a degree of a recognised body. These are known as ‘listed bodies’.
Organisations that only offer part of a degree course do not have listed body status. In such cases, enquirers are recommended to contact the degree awarding body to confirm that the course was originally set up by them. Degree awarding bodies not on our list of recognised bodies will not be awarding recognised UK degrees.
Inclusion of an institution as a listed body
The Listed Bodies Order is a Statutory Instrument which is normally updated by the department once every 2 to 3 years. Recognised UK universities or UK higher education institutions with their own degree awarding powers supply the department with details of institutions for inclusion in the Listed Bodies Order during a collation exercise conducted by or on behalf of BIS.
To be included in the Listed Bodies Order, an institution must:
- offer a complete degree course, leading to a degree of a recognised bod (institutions which offer part of a degree course or contributions to a degree course are not included)
- offer degree courses (institutions offering diploma courses only, undergraduate or post graduate, should not be included)
- currently exist and currently provide degree courses (the Listed Bodies Order is not intended to provide a ‘historical’ perspective. Institutions which no longer exist, for example through merger, or which no longer provide degree courses, should not be included)
Only bodies in the UK are included in the Orders. Overseas provision is not covered by the legislation.
It is the recognised bodies, as degree awarding bodies, that supply the department with details of those institutions that provide full degree courses on their behalf. The department cannot accept representations for inclusion on the Listed Bodies Order directly from degree course providers.
To inform the department of institutions that they deem eligible for inclusion, recognised bodies should either email the department at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to the:
Higher Education Governance Team
Knowledge and Innovation Group
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
1 Victoria Street
London SW1H 0ET
The Listed Bodies Order should not be confused with the UK Border Agency’s Register of Sponsors.
The following institutions or bodies can award degrees which are unique to them, but do not have the powers to award any degree, unlike the recognised bodies.
- Mastership in Clinical Biochemistry: awarded jointly by the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Royal College of Pathologists and Association of Clinical Biochemists
- Mastership in Food Control: awarded jointly by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Biology and the Institute of Food Science and Technology
- Degree of Barrister-at-Law: Benchers of the Honourable Society of the Inns of Court of Northern Ireland
- Degree of the Utter Bar: Inns of Court
- Master of Horticulture: Royal Horticultural Society
- Masters and Bachelors Degrees: Richmond, the American International University in London
- Mastership in Chemical Analysis: Royal Society of Chemistry
Degree-awarding powers and criteria for university title
Read the guidance on applying for powers to award taught degrees, research degrees and university title.
The criteria for being able to call an institution a university in England changed from 11 June 2012. The 2012 criteria replacing those set out in the 2004 guidance are set out below.
An organisation wishing to apply for approval to use the title ‘university’ must:
- have been granted powers to award taught degrees
- normally have at least 1,000 full time equivalent higher education students, of whom at least 750 are registered on degree courses (including foundation degree programmes), and the number of full time equivalent higher education students must exceed 55% of the total number of full time equivalent students
- be able to demonstrate that it has regard to the principles of good governance as are relevant to its sector
Revised guidance on university title, university college title and taught and research degree awarding powers will be published shortly.
It will include detailed guidance on the application process for university title and university college title including guidance on the assessment of non-HEFCE funded institutions for university title or university college title.
In order to inform that assessment, a process has been put in place for assessing student numbers and good governance for university title and university college title for non-HEFCE funded organisations.
You can read the guidance on that process which will be included in the new guidance on applying for university title and university college title when it is published.
You can also read the English and Welsh criteria required for further education institutions to be granted foundation degree awarding powers (FDAPs).
Frequently asked questions
Q. How do I know whether the institution I want to study at is recognised in the UK?
A. The UK authorities recognise those institutions that can offer degrees by virtue of their own degree awarding powers (recognised bodies) or those powers of another institution (listed bodies).
You can search for recognised bodies, listed bodies and other awards.
If you are in any doubt about the validity of the course you are applying for, check the legal basis on which the course is being offered with the institution and check that the degree will be one awarded by a recognised body.
Q. What do I do if the course I want to study is not validated by any of the recognised bodies?
A. The course may be offered by a foreign university. Foreign universities may offer degrees in the UK provided they make it clear that they are not UK degrees. The UK authorities cannot advise on the quality of these courses. It is up to you to check what recognition arrangements exist in the country of origin for any degree course you undertake in the UK.
If you are in any doubt about the validity of the course you are applying for, check the legal basis on which the course is being offered with the institution and check that the degree will be one from a recognised body.
Q. I have a query about whether a UK qualification that is not a degree is accredited or recognised. Who should I ask about this?
A. You may want to contact the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator (Ofqual), which is the regulator of qualifications, exams and tests in England. Ofqual maintain a Register of Regulated Qualifications which includes a record of regulated awarding bodies for these qualifications.
Q. What do I do if the institution where I want to study is not recognised?
A. Check with the college or university the legal basis on which it offers courses. Then check with the institution which is said to validate the course. There may have been some additions to the lists since they were last updated.
Q. How will I know if the college or institution I wish to study at in the UK will be acceptable to the Home Office or UK Border Agency?
A. You can check whether any such college or institution will be acceptable for coming to study in the UK by accessing the UK Border Agency’s Register of Tier 4 Sponsors (approved education providers).
Q. What has happened to the DIUS Register of Education and Training Providers?
A. The former DIUS Register - which is not to be confused with the Recognised UK Degrees website - has been replaced by the UK Border Agency’s Register of Sponsors.
Q. How do I know if the qualification I want to study will enable me to stay in the UK under the International Graduates Scheme?
A. The UK Border Agency’s International Graduates Scheme has now closed to new applicants.
If you wish to come to the United Kingdom to work, or if you are already here and wish to extend your stay by switching into a working category, you will need to apply under the new points-based system.
If you are already in the United Kingdom under the International Graduates Scheme (or the Science and Engineering Graduates Scheme that preceded it), you should see Transitional arrangements for migrants on the International Graduates Scheme or Science and Engineering Graduates Scheme.
Q. Can I study externally for a recognised UK degree at a private institution?
A. To comply with UK Border Agency rules, overseas students accepted to study externally for a degree at a private education institution in the UK, must also be registered as an external student with the recognised UK body that awards the degree. For more information please contact the UK Border Agency.
Q. How do I know what the quality of my course will be?
A. The UK has a comprehensive system of quality assurance in higher education. All UK universities and other degree-awarding bodies (recognised bodies), whether publicly funded or not, must undergo review by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). The academic community has primary responsibility for standards and quality, but QAA confirms that UK expectations are being met. QAA’s review findings are published on its website. Where problems are identified, institutions are expected to show that they have rectified them.
Where degree-awarding bodies delegate courses or parts of courses to other UK or international organisations that are not reviewed by QAA, they must demonstrate (during their QAA review) that such partnerships do not pose a threat to standards and quality. Many such partnerships are with listed bodies that are themselves reviewed by QAA. Alternative providers recruiting international students to the UK must also undergo QAA review (in order to meet UK Border Agency regulations).
There is no guarantee that an institution claiming to offer UK degrees is entitled to do so. Before enrolling on a course you should always ascertain that the qualification will be awarded through a formal arrangement with a recognised body reviewed by QAA - if in doubt, check directly with the degree-awarding body.
Q. Will the course be acceptable to professional bodies, employers and other higher education institutions?
A. Each one makes its own decision so you need to check in detail. If you are in any doubt about the validity of the course you are applying for, check the legal basis on which the course is being offered with the institution and check that the degree will be one from a recognised body.
Q. What is the ranking of UK universities?
A. The UK government does not have a ranking system for its universities. However, universities and their courses are independently assessed by QAA. These reviews contain judgements on whether standards, quality and the information an institution provides about itself have met UK expectations. QAA reviews also cite findings of good practice and recommendations for improvement. Details can be found on the QAA website.
Q. How do I find out which universities offer what courses?
A. UK universities are autonomous institutions and it is up to those institutions to promote the provision of their qualifications. However, you can use the UCAS course search facility which will help you locate all the recognised UK higher education institutions that offer the subject or subjects you want to study. You will then need to contact the institutions concerned directly to discuss their provision.
Q. If I am an overseas student, is it possible that I could gain credit for previous studies and finish my degree in the UK?
A. Higher education institutions (HEIs) are responsible for making decisions on what they will accept as entry to or credit towards their education programmes. Entry requirements vary from institution to institution you will need to contact HEIs directly to see if they will accept your previous studies.
The National Academic Recognition Information Centre advises on the compatibility on overseas qualifications.
It is an offence in the UK for any organisation to offer a degree qualification which could be taken to be that of a UK institution unless the body making the offer is recognised by the UK authorities. The relevant legislation in this area is section 214 of the Education Reform Act 1988.
Organisations suspected of committing an offence under this Act will be reported to the appropriate local Trading Standards Department for investigation. This could lead to prosecution.
It is not an offence for overseas organisations to offer their own awards in the UK, as long as they make it clear that they are not qualifications from a UK institution and that accreditation is from overseas. However, the UK authorities are unable to vouch for the quality of these qualifications, many of which may involve no formal study. UK employers are familiar with bona fide UK universities and colleges and will easily detect a bogus degree.
Spotting bogus degrees
There are organisations which offer bogus degrees or degree courses. Often publicising themselves through the internet, these:
- offer qualifications that are not recognised by the authorities in any country
- use English-sounding names and addresses without actually being located in the UK
- take your money but give nothing in return, and do not give a refund
Before paying any money or registering for your chosen course, make sure that:
- you know which university or awarding body will award the degree at the end of the course
- if you want to study for a UK degree, you have checked the list of recognised bodies to make sure that the awarding body is acknowledged by the UK authorities as having UK degree-awarding powers
- if the awarding body is not based in the UK, check that the degree is recognised or accredited by the government of the country that it operates from
Other sources of information
Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) is an initiative sponsored by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) which aims to prevent Higher Education fraud in the UK.
Separate to the department’s recognised bodies list, HEDD maintains lists of UK degree-awarding bodies, including name changes, mergers and antecedents since 1990. Where institutions that are claiming to be universities are known to be bogus, these are also listed. You can also use HEDD to check whether a university is, or has been, a valid degree-awarding body in the UK.
For more information about the work of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), including its review reports of higher education providers, visit www.qaa.ac.uk.