UK Graduate Programs

Interested in applying for fellowships which support graduate study in the United Kingdom—namely, Churchill, Fulbright, Gates Cambridge, Marshall, Mitchell or Rhodes? Well, the best way to begin is by finding M.A. or Ph.D. programs in the UK that fit as snugly as possible with your academic and research interests, and I suggest starting that search with the Research Excellence Framework (REF), a survey of every graduate program in the UK conducted jointly by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and the Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland (DEL). The REF is published online every five years—the most recent update appeared in 2014—and the results that it produces are organized according to thirty-six disciplinary areas, beginning with those in clinical medicine and continuing through the natural sciences, math, engineering, social sciences, humanities, and fine arts.  You can access the REF below, and here’s how to find the top-rated UK graduate programs in your general field:

  1. Click on REF
  2. Click on “view by unit of assessment”
  3. Click on the disciplinary area closest to your interest.

A comprehensive list of every university or college in the UK with graduate programs in your field will appear. The schools are listed, in descending order, by those in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. 

To the far right of the school list is the REF’s rating in terms of originality, significance and rigor of the research in your field being conducted at each university:  4*(“world-leading”); 3* (“internationally excellent”); 2* (“internationally recognized”); 1* (“nationally recognized”). You should only concern yourself with the top two ratings.

For example, here’s the REF ranking of the first school listed under  “Clinical Medicine”:

  4* 3* 2* 1*
University of Birmingham: 27 53 18 1


This line should be read as, “At the University of Birmingham, 27% of the faculty in Clinical Medicine is doing world-leading research; 53% internationally excellent research;18% internationally recognized research; and 1% nationally recognized research.” As it happens, of the thirteen schools, the University of Birmingham’s rating is relatively low, and, not entirely a surprise, the highest rating was given to the University of Oxford, with 92% of its faculty in Clinical Medicine credited with either world-leading or internationally excellent research. In any case, by comparing the ratings of all thirty-one schools in the top two categories, you can quickly come away with a short list of, say, five to seven programs that you want to explore in more depth and detail in terms of the specific research being done by the faculty as well as the specific resources—centers, institutes, libraries, conferences, etc.—that support it. To do so, of course, you’ll now want to leave the REF and turn first to the websites of the schools with the top-rated programs in your field and then to the specific websites of the departments that house those programs. Have fun and good hunting.