The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

Economics in UK Higher Education

This guide aims to give a brief overview of the UK Higher Education sector with a specific focus on the teaching of economics. It also aims to provide key information about career progression, training and reward.

UK Higher Education

Higher Education (HE) in the UK has a long history with Oxford and Cambridge universities dating from the 12th and 13th centuries and St Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen dating from the 15th century. As of 2022, there are 170 higher education institutions across the UK which can award first degrees (GOV.UK, 2021) and 2.7 million students (Universities UK, 2024).

Accreditation, funding and regulation

The UK comprises 4 nations – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – each of which fund higher education through their own funding and regulation bodies:

Quality Assurance

Quality assurance standards for HE are monitored and advised by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) for the whole of the UK. The QAA's services include:

Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

The Teaching Excellence Framework was established by government in 2015 to evaluate the quality of the undergraduate student experience in UK HE institutions. It aims to provide comparable information about universities beyond existing quality assurance systems (such as QAA review), ultimately allowing institutions to increase their student tuition fees according to how highly they are rated.

Participation is optional across the UK, though HE institutions in England that have a TEF award can increase their student fees in line with inflation (up to £9,250 in 2023). Participation in TEF by institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has no direct impact on their student fees.

Each institution is judged by an independent panel of students, academics and other experts. The panel bases their judgement on a written statement from the institution and a combination of institutional data including student satisfaction, employment outcomes, and how many students continue their study from one year to the next. Judgements currently result in a ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’ or ‘Bronze’ badge.

TEF has recently been reviewed by government who have ruled out a TEF by subject. See the latest plans for TEF.

Participating higher education providers and their TEF awards are listed here.

Typical higher education qualifications within each level

Qualification levelFurther informationFHEQ levelSCQF level
Doctoral degrees (e.g., PhD/DPhil, EdD, DBA, DClinPsy)A doctorate is the next (and highest) qualification in the UK, usually taking three to four years to complete.812
Master’s degrees (e.g., MPhil, MRes, MA, MSc)Master's degrees are either four year degree courses (often sandwich courses involving one year in industry or abroad) or a one year course after completion of an undergraduate degree.711
Integrated master’s degrees (e.g., MEng, MChem)
Postgraduate diplomas
Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE)
Postgraduate certificates
Bachelor’s degrees with honours (e.g. BA/BSc Hons)

Bachelor's degrees with honours are typically four years in Scotland but three years in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The four year course in Scotland allows students from Scottish schools who usually sit Highers aged 16/17 (as opposed to GCE A-levels aged 17/18 in England, Northern Ireland and Wales) to progress to university receiving a broader based education in the first two years, and then specialising in the final two.

A combined or joint honours bachelor’s degree is a degree where two or more subjects are studied from different areas (e.g. Economics and Business). A combined degree is the same level of qualification as a single honours degree.

Bachelor's degrees with honours are typically four years in Scotland but three years in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Bachelor’s degrees9
Professional Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Graduate diplomas, Graduate certificates
Foundation degrees (eg. FdA, FdSc)Usually 2 years to complete.5N/A
Diplomas of Higher Education (DipHE)8
Higher National Diplomas (HND) awarded by degree-awarding bodies in England, Wales and Northern IrelandN/A
Higher National Certificates (HNC) awardedby degree-awarding bodies in England, Wales and Northern IrelandUsually one year to complete4N/A
Certificates of Higher Education (CertHE)7

Table adapted from the Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies (QAA, 2024)


University entry

Some higher education institutions use qualifications and grades as part of their student entry requirements for undergraduate degrees – many use UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) tariff points, which are allocated to qualifications generally studied between the ages of 16 to 18 (including A-levels and Scottish Highers).

Some economics undergraduate degree courses require A-level Maths, but most do not. Virtually all require GCSE Maths at grade C or B. No course requires A-level Economics. On some economics degree courses students are streamed in the first year according to their background in Maths and/or Economics.

Student fees

Student fees in the UK vary according to each student’s home nation/region and where in the UK they are studying:

Tuition fees by region for courses starting in 2023 (UCAS, 2023)
Student's home regionStudying in EnglandStudying in ScotlandStudying in WalesStudying in Northern Ireland
EnglandUp to £9,250Up to £9,250Up to £9,000Up to £9,250
ScotlandUp to £9,250No feeUp to £9,000Up to £9,250
WalesUp to £9,250Up to £9,250Up to £9,000Up to £9,250
Northern IrelandUp to £9,250Up to £9,250Up to £9,000Up to £4,395
EU and other internationalVariableVariableVariableVariable

Generally students take out student loans or grants to pay for university. These are usually from devolved government agencies. EU students are also eligible for UK student loans.

Training, reward and recognition

Each institution will have a policy on career progression – many have generic academic job descriptions along different career pathways – for example teaching only, research only, teaching and research. Progression will depend on your role as well as evidence of your expertise.

In terms of teaching expertise, most HE institutions have central academic/teaching development units which can guide and support staff in their teaching development, reward and recognition.

New lecturer training

Since 2001, all new lecturers to UK higher education are required to undertake institutional training to prepare them for their teaching (Department of Education and Skills, 2003). Many run postgraduate certificate programmes.

129 institutions (Pilkington, 2017) also run Continuing Professional Development (CPD) schemes accredited to the UK Professional Standards Framework – a national teaching standard developed by the sector and currently overseen by Advance HE. Staff can be recognised through these CPD schemes (or directly with the HEA where no scheme exists) at various categories of HEA Fellowship: Associate Fellow; Fellow; Senior Fellow and Principal Fellow.

New lecturers are generally expected to gain HEA Fellowship (Fellow category) – normally through the institution's accredited postgraduate certificate programme or CPD scheme. Postgraduates who teach are often expected to gain Associate Fellowship through an accredited CPD scheme or by direct application.

Economics New Lecturer Training

The Economics Network’s Early Careers Workshop is a two-day event focused on effective and innovative economics teaching. It has been developed in consultation with a network of experienced economics lecturers from across the UK. The workshop aligns with the UK Professional Standards Framework and has been formally endorsed by the Royal Economic Society and the Scottish Economic Society.

Other events, including training events, are provided by the Network: see the events page or subscribe to the monthly email to be kept informed.

National Teaching Fellowships

Many institutions offer internal Teaching Awards (sometimes student-nominated). In England institutions can put forward up to three members of staff annually forward to compete for a National Teaching Fellowship (55 currently awarded annually).


Department of Education and Skills. (2003). The future of higher education (Vol. 3). London. DOI: 10.1007/BF00168212

GOV.UK. (2021). Recognised bodies. Retrieved 10 March 2021.

Pilkington, R. (2017). Summary report Annual Review of HEA accredited CPD schemes 2015-16.

QAA. (2024). The Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications of UK Degree-Awarding Bodies, (2nd edition, February 2024).

Universities UK. (2024). Higher education in facts and figures: 2023. London.

UCAS (2023) "Undergraduate tuition fees and student loans"

Back to top