Higher education in Europe

How is higher education in Europe structured?

The Study in Europe website covers higher education in 33 European countries.

Each country has its own individual higher education system – but all are part of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).

The EHEA system helps ensure that higher education systems across Europe are compatible - and that students, researchers and academics in Europe can collaborate and study or work abroad more easily.

Qualifications across Europe are comparable through the European Qualifications Framework.

Most study programmes involve lectures and classes, with assessment through essays, exams and coursework. Many also involve a period of time working in industry or working on industry-related projects.

The aim of a doctorate is to break new ground – to produce new information and ideas or to conduct original research to help advance your subject. You may be expected to produce papers throughout your programme, and to produce a thesis for evaluation.

Which higher education qualifications can I take in Europe?

The main higher education qualifications offered across Europe are as follows:

Bachelor’s degree

  • Most full-time Bachelor's study programmes in Europe last 3 or 4 years (this will be longer if you study part-time)
  • To do a Bachelor’s degree, you usually need some school qualifications first – this varies so check the entry requirements for your chosen study programme
  • Bachelor’s degrees are highly regarded by employers. They are a great way to gain vital skills and knowledge to help you develop your career
  • Most study programmes involve lectures and classes, with assessment through essays, exams and coursework. Many also involve a period of time working in industry or working on industry-related projects

Master’s degree

  • Most full-time Master's study programmes in Europe last 1 or 2 years (this will be longer if you study part-time)
  • To do a Master’s degree, you usually need a Bachelor’s degree or other undergraduate qualification first
  • Master’s degrees are highly regarded by employers. They are a great way to gain deeper or additional skills and knowledge to help you develop your career. In particular, they may also help you gain professional status – for example if you wish to become chartered in your profession. Most study programmes involve lectures and classes, with assessment through essays, exams and coursework. Many also involve a period of time working in industry or working on industry-related projects.
  • If you prefer, you could opt for a Master’s that focuses on independent research, where you study one subject closely with the guidance of a supervisor, producing a thesis or dissertation

Doctorate/PhD

  • Most full-time doctorates in Europe last around 3 or 4 years (this will be longer if you study part-time)
  • To do a doctorate, you usually need a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree first
  • Doctorates are ideal for people with a passion for research and discovery. They are especially useful if you want to work in academia, become a specialist in a particular field, or be an industry researcher
  • Doctorates usually involve a lot of independent study and research, specialised in one particular subject. You may attend some classes, but usually you carry out your own independent research, under the guidance of your supervisor
  • The aim of a doctorate is to break new ground – to produce new information and ideas or to conduct original research to help advance your subject. You may be expected to produce papers throughout your programme, and to produce a thesis for evaluation.
  • To apply, you usually have to submit a research proposal, outlining what your doctorate will aim to achieve

As well as these three main study levels, you can also do lots of other higher education qualifications – such as professional diplomas and more.

Visit the Country profiles section to find out more about higher education across Europe.

Which subjects can I study?

You will find a huge range of higher education study programmes on offer across Europe – Astrophysics, Biotechnology, Business, Chemical Engineering, Football management, Geography, Green energy management, History, Information Technology, International Relations, Languages, Law, Literature, Medicine, Sociology, Teaching, Tourism, Zoology, and much, much more. 

Most higher education study programmes have a ‘modular’ structure. This means that you can build a personalised programme by choosing several different modules or units of study each year from a wide selection. For example, if you are studying Fashion, you might choose one module on Fashion Marketing, one module on Textile Design, and one module on Ethical Textile Production.

Interested in more than one subject? You may be able to study a combination as part of your programme, e.g. Business and Russian language.

Where can I study?

There are 1000s of universities, research institutes and higher education institutions across Europe. Have a look at the Country profiles section to see what each country offers you.

I want to study in more than one European country. Is this possible?

Yes – there are lots of options for you to study in more than one European country. Have a look at the Short term study opportunities section

What language can I study in?

There are 24 official languages in the European Union… but most countries across Europe offer study programmes taught in English and other languages too. In the Country profiles section you can see the language options for study programmes in each country.

What time of year do study programmes in Europe start?

Start dates vary across Europe, but the academic year typically begins in September or October and finishes in June. Some study programmes also offer January/February start dates too.

What about scholarships and costs?

Find out more about Scholarships and costs

How do I apply for a study programme?

Find out about Choosing and applying for a study programme