Pupils going on to higher education or professional training usually take "A" level examinations in two or three subjects. Universities accept students mainly on the basis of their "A" level results, although they may interview them as well. In 1971 the Open University was started, where these formal qualifications are not necessary. Nearly a quarter of all adult part-time students follow its degree courses on radio and television.
There are forty-seven universities in Britain and thirty former polytechnics (now also universities), plus 350 colleges and institutes of higher education (some of which train teachers).
Undergraduate courses normally take three years of full-time study, although a number of subjects take longer, including medicine, architecture and foreign languages (where courses include a year abroad). They lead in most cases to a Bachelor's degree in Arts or Science. There are various postgraduate degrees, including Master and Doctor of Philosophy. The last two are awarded for research in arts or sciences.
Degrees are awarded either by the institution itself, or by the Council for National Academic Awards, particularly in vocational areas. Students of law, architecture and some other professions can take qualifications awarded by their own professional bodies instead of degrees.
At present, students who have been accepted by universities or other institutions of higher education receive a grant from their local authority, which covers the cost of the course, and may cover living expenses. Parents with higher incomes are expected to make a contribution. Until 1990 the grant did not have to be paid back, but now a system of loans has been introduced.
The most famous universities are Oxford and Cambridge, called "Oxbridge". They are famous for their academic excellence of higher education.