I recently learned about the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC). It's a UK agency that assesses international academic qualifications.

According to UK NARIC, a Master's degree from my country is at best equivalent to a British Bachelor's Degree with Honours. Thus, it seems that before I can apply to a PhD program in the UK, I will have to complete another Master's degree in the said country.

My question is, are all public universities in the UK required to follow the UK NARIC guidelines in evaluating the academic credentials of prospective PhD applicants? Or, can these universities still opt to assess PhD applications on a case-by-case basis?

Thanks in advance for your answers!

  • 1
    I would email the department/university you are interested in applying to directly, and ask if your qualification is sufficient. Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 17:57

2 Answers 2


No. Universities (almost all UK universities are public) in the UK are not bound to follow any standard or rules when evaluating prospective PhD applicants. Even the requirement for a Master's degree at all is at the discretion of the admissions panel (in fact at least half of the students have supervised had only Bachelor's degrees).

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    It's not at all clear what being a "public" versus a "private" university means in England. I've seen the word "private" used both to signify a university that doesn't have a QAA subscription (and therefore relies wholly on degree-awarding powers directly granted by granted by Act of Parliament, order of the Privy Council, or Royal Charter); and to signify the converse, a university that doesn't have directly-granted degree-awarding powers (and therefore relies wholly on degree-awarding powers flowing from a QAA subscription). Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 14:10
  • My understanding is that it comes down to funding. Public universities get funding from the government (including any remaining teaching block grant, qualiyy related research funding (what used to be called "the HEFCE money" or "QR money") and C-stream research top-up. Public universities are subject to government restrictions on the students they can take and the amount they can charge them. Private unis take no money from the government, and are therefore not subject to the same restrictions (although a certain subset of students might qualify for government loans). Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 14:44
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    I think there are 7 institutions that people commonly mean when they say "private universities": Regent’s University London, The University of Buckingham, The University of Law, BPP University College, The London Institute of Banking & Finance, The American University, Richmond (awarding Open University degrees) and New College for the Humanities (awarding University of London degrees). Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 14:45
  • Thanks, @IanSudbery. In any case, my information was out of date: the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 made it impossible for a university to be private by the first of the two definitions I gave (because the Act empowered OfS to revoke directly-granted degree-awarding powers on grounds of non-registration with OfS). Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 15:29

UK universities do assess PhD applicants on a case-by-case basis

Actually, UK universities do assess PhD applicants on a case-by-case basis. Broadly speaking, the criteria for admission are:

  • is the applicant's research proposal coherent and will it advance scholarship?
  • does the applicant possess the necessary skill, motivation, and credentials to conduct the research proposed?
  • does the university have a member of academic staff who is capable of supervising the applicant's research and who is available and willing to do so?

(NB: getting admitted to a PhD programme in the UK is relatively straightforward, but getting a funded PhD place is significantly harder)

In general, the minimum "credentials" expected of an applicant by a UK university would be:

  • an upper-second-class or first-class undergraduate (Bachelor's) degree in a relevant (but not necessarily the same) discipline; and
  • (where the applicant's previous university studies were not in English) evidence that the applicant is highly proficient in the use and comprehension of English.

Expectations regarding a Master's degree

Nowadays, a relevant Master's degree would also be expected (but probably not essential), since it is regarded as good preparation for undertaking original research. For that purpose, NARIC equivalence is not very important here -- a UK university is more interested in the details of what you did in that Master's degree. Ideally, you will have written an original dissertation or project involving serious original research in a relevant discipline (the dissertation need not be particularly long -- the quality and potential are what count, and a potential supervisor may well ask to see only extracts from it), demonstrated specialist knowledge relevant to your PhD research proposal, and manifested some appreciation of some of the research methodologies you propose to deploy in your PhD.

So, if you feel that your existing Master's degree can demonstrate research preparedness and a suitable specialist knowledge for your research proposal, it may well be sufficient. You should be prepared to discuss what you learned and discovered from that Master's degree in detail, and show extracts from the work you produced in fulfilment of the requirements for that degree (such as a dissertation).

  • This is a generally sound discussion, but note that some things here are discipline specific. For example, in experimental sciences, we almost never ask for a research proposal. Students will apply for an prespecified project, or devise a project in collaboration with the supervisor. This is because the research will require research funding (tens of thousands of pounds in my field). Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 13:29

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