Forty years ago, London University was still offering degree registration to "external" students, who might be living anywhere in the world. To prepare themselves for the London exams, many studied at local institutions; but it was also acceptable for external students not to study at any institution but to study "privately". Some of these "private" students had private tutors, while others studied wholly on their own, without any tuition, and after being registered for the required period of time they presented themselves in a London or London-accredited examination room and sat the exam papers. Fees were paid both for registration and examination. For many decades, the availability of degree examinations to private students was considered one of the special features of London University.

I am not asking for recommendations, but are there any British universities nowadays that register and examine students who study wholly on their own?

Note that I am not asking about degrees by "distance learning" in which coursework is required and tuition bought from and given by the degree-awarding institution, or by an institution accredited by it, although it is possible that the kind of degree registration I am asking about might be considered a sub-category of distance learning.

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    I would also like to ask whether any "reputable" universities outside of Britain offer degrees to such students, with "reputable" meaning "not a degree mill that anyone can buy a degree certificate from by mail order", but I suspect that that question would fall foul of the "don't solicit opinions" rule. In Britain, however, since "university" is a protected term it is clear which institutions are universities and which aren't.
    – user51877
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 21:11
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    It might be a good idea to add this link to the question: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 22:33
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    There is no such thing as "London University". There's the "University of London" which currently consists of 17 Colleges and 9 Institutes. Do you means that ? As far as I know, there are no central exams for the University of London, they are all administered by the individual Colleges. (I have a degree from one of them, which has since left the University of London.) Commented May 17, 2016 at 9:53
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    @ruffle: There are plenty of slightly dodgy institutions out there which trade on some kind of riff on the words "University" and "London". I have never heard anyone calling the "University of London" "London University", hence my question. Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 9:39
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    I used to work at Bitkbeck, University of London and vaguely remember there being an external programme a number of years ago. Try them possibly.
    – Deleuze
    Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 8:27

3 Answers 3


The University of London still offers self study courses for international students. The list of courses includes both undergraduate and post graduate degrees in a range of subjects. While these courses are self study and do not include tuition, they are not cheap. For example, the fees for the Accounting and Finance (BSc) are:

Academic year 2016-2017

Application fee (non-refundable) £ 84

Initial registration fee £ 760

Examination entry fee (per full course) £ 224

Examination entry fee (per half course) £ 112

Continuing registration fee £ 380

Total for BSc degree £ 4,292

Other fees (as applicable)

Additional registration fee for students taking law courses (per course) £ 51

Application fee for consideration of accreditation of prior learning (per full course) £ 89

The fees are a little confusing since they are using course in two different ways. I think £224 fee is for a full year module.

At a total cost of £4,292, this is considerably cheaper than the £9,000 per year (£27,000 per for a degree) that most UK universities are charging. That said while program includes study materials, it does not include teaching.


Considering how cash-strapped and/or financially savvy British higher education institutions tend to be nowadays, you are extremely unlikely to find such a programme set available anywhere in the British isles.

In the days of online distance learning and MOOCs (massive open online courses), there is probably no valid reason for an institution to grant degrees for free.

The rationale for charging fees for distance learning is that registering with a degree programme, you precisely do not 'study wholly on your own', but you benefit from a wide range of resources, not the least digital, to have access to the latest scholarship, in addition to the expertise the local staff 'holds' themselves.

If you are based outside the UK, your natural first port of call to find an answer for a question of this nature would be the British Council; they are the experts to advise globally about UK educational and cultural opportunities.

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    The scheme the OP is talking about where an international student pays to take the exam seems like a potential money maker.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 23:47
  • so, would anyone explain how the answer above 'is not useful', and how it could improve and become so? Many thanks!
    – G-E
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 10:15
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    I thought my previous comment did. your answer is essentially NO be a use it does not make financial sense. In the OP''s model there is no teaching. The OP simply wants to pay to take the exams and if they pass get a degree. That seems to male good financial sense.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 11:31
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    You mean OU, as in The Open University? The OU model is definitely not one where 'there is no teaching'. See this brief quote from the OU's website: 'You get regular support from your tutor on both a one-to-one basis and as part of group tutorials, which can be face to face or online.'
    – G-E
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 13:15
  • For once I typed what I meant. I was not talking about the OU, but the OP (original poster) of the question.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 13:57

The obvious answer is the Open University, which exists to offer such degrees.

They have a huge range of qualifications from undergraduate to PhD level and allow study from home full- or part-time (70% of OU students are in full time employment, so most students are involved part-time).

I haven't had anything to do with them myself, but know people who've studied chemistry and computer science, in both cases to degree level as part-time study while working. While these individuals were based in the UK, the programmes (or at least many of them) are offered internationally.

  • Does the OU offer any courses for free or are there fellowships for international students?
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 23:44
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    Additionally the OP is not interested in traditional distance learning.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 23:46
  • I don't know the details of the financial arrangements for foreign students, but the question mentions fees, so there was no need to search for something free. (@strongbad)
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 6:56
  • question was: 'are there any British universities nowadays that register and examine students who study wholly on their own?' There is no way the OU 'exists to offer such degrees', unless we don't understand studying on one's own in the same way. The OU provides study material, there are books published by the OU to support study, and there are tutors who are there to help with the learning experience of students. Doesn't sound like 'studying on one's own' to me.
    – G-E
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 13:10
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    @ChrisH no, the Univ of London allowed people to pay to take the exams without ever studying or going to class. If they passed, they got the degree.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 13:55

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