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THE UK: Subject Guides

Best UK universities for online study

Discover which UK universities offer online courses and degree programmes so you can start studying no matter where you are.

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A degree from a UK university is globally recognised and highly valued for several reasons including the quality of teaching, research quality and expertise of the lecturers. Gaining this type of prestigious qualification can help you to reach your career goals and find fulfilment in the field you wish to enter.


But travelling abroad isn’t always a feasible option. This might be for personal reasons which mean you cannot leave your home country, affordability or most lately, the pandemic which has disrupted travel and study in some parts of the world. That’s why we’ve looked into the best universities for distance learning and online study in the UK to help you gain a UK qualification even if you can’t make it overseas right now.


How did we create this list?


Not all UK universities offer online degrees and there is a lack of league tables that factor in the quality of online study. So, we used the Times Higher Education University Rankings 2021 (THE 2021) to source the leading universities in the UK, followed by a close inspection of their online course offerings. 


But first, let’s start with some context. 


What online courses can I do?


Studying online provides more flexibility, allowing you to work from your own home, therefore reducing the costs of accommodation, tuition, and travel. But there are different types of online courses including:


  • Distance learning
  • Online learning
  • Hybrid model
  • Blended learning


Find out more about the definitions of these online learning models.


Study online now, on campus later


If you want to study online temporarily but would like to return to campus once you feel safe to do so, you could look into hybrid courses offering an online start and a return to on-campus learning. 


Distance learning


Or if you wish to remain in your home country for the whole of your course, distance learning would be a more suitable option.


So now that we’ve got the basics cleared up, here are the top UK universities offering online courses.


1. Imperial College London


Imperial College has several online degree programmes across different subject areas such as engineeringbusinessmedicinefinance and more. For example, a two year part-time postgraduate MSc in Business Analytics is available through online delivery.


This type of course enables students to work alongside their studies, allowing for greater flexibility and the opportunity to earn whilst learning. This course is taught through The Hub, the university’s specialised learning environment. 


Other popular online courses at the university include the Global Online MBA which is ranked 1st in the UK and 2nd in the world (QS Online MBA Rankings 2021). Students can choose to complete this programme in 21, 24 or 32 months. 


2. UCL


Known for its expertise in science, medicine, engineering, and business, UCL ranks fourth in the UK (THE 2021) and 16th in the world. You can gain an online postgraduate degree at UCL which offers distance learning courses across several disciplines including health and medicine, education, social science, and business.


For example, the Physics and Engineering in Medicine MSc is offered as a distance learning postgraduate course but is identical to the campus-delivered course. Students can choose to study this course for up to five years, enabling greater flexibility.


The course content is taught through video lectures, online tutorials, and e-learning resources. UCL also offers online short courses for personal and professional development through the university and the Institute of Education’s Massive Open Online Courses. 


3. London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)


This university does not offer distance learning at graduate level but has partnered with The University of London to provide online undergraduate degrees in economicsfinance, management, and the social sciences. LSE is responsible for the academic direction of these programmes which include:


  • Data Science and Business Analytics (BSc)
  • Accounting and Finance (BSc)
  • Economics (BSc)
  • International Relations (BSc)


Courses are delivered through live online sessions plus self-paced independent study with 24/7 technical support. Students can choose to learn on a desktop, mobile or tablet. These programmes have four annual intakes in August, November, February, and May. These can take three to six years to complete.


4. University of Edinburgh 


Ranking 6th in the UK and 30th globally, the University of Edinburgh has 15 years’ experience of delivering online courses including both postgraduate online degrees and short online courses. Qualifications include:


  • Postgraduate Professional Development (up to 50 credits)
  • Postgraduate Diploma (120 credits)
  • Postgraduate certificate (60 credits)
  • Master’s degree (MSc or LLM) (up to 180 credits)


A variety of master’s degree programmes are available through online study at the University of Edinburgh including:


  • Data Science for Health and Social Care
  • Digital Education
  • Epistemology, Ethics and Mind
  • Global Health Policy
  • History
  • Law


You can also boost your skills with a short course in a variety of areas such as arts and culture, business, animal welfare, health, and wellbeing and more. Overall, the university prides itself on offering online courses with the same level of quality as its on-campus programmes. 


5. King’s College London


A major research university based in central London known for its expertise in medicine and healthcare in particular. Home to 12 Nobel prize winners including Maurice Wilkins who discovered the structure of DNA. 


So, if you can’t make it to campus, King’s College London offers online postgraduate programmes and short online courses to students based in any part of the world. Online masters programmes include:


  • Advanced Cybersecurity (MSc)
  • Applied Neuroscience (MSc)
  • Law (LLM)
  • Public Health
  • Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health (MSC/PGDip/PGCert)
  • Global Finance Analytics MSc/PGDip


The university has its e-Learning and Teaching Service (KEATS) which can be accessed on desktop, mobile or laptop devices. Short online courses are hosted on Future Learn and run by leading academics from the university.


There are six entry points each year, giving students more flexibility and choice over when to start their programme. King’s College London ranks 7th in the UK and 35th in the world, making a qualification from King’s College highly renowned across many parts of the world. 



6.Open University


The Open University is the UK’s largest institution specifically specialising in distance learning courses with over 50 years’ experience of delivering online programmes to students around the world.


You can find both undergraduate and postgraduate courses through the Open University, covering a wide range of disciplines. These can be a foundation or honours degrees, diplomas, integrated master’s degrees, certificates, and short courses. Programmes are taught by dedicated tutors and resources can be shared on an online study portal where you can find course materials and student forums.


Hopefully, you found what you were looking for but if you didn’t, check out our course matcher tool to see which programmes are better suited to your preferences and qualifications.  


Before you go, check out our other guide on online courses and careers to see what employment prospects could follow an online course.


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