Best universities for life sciences degrees in the UK 2022

Submitted by Joy.Hunter@tim… on Wed, 10/06/2021 - 18:11

The life sciences include agriculture and forestry, biological sciences, veterinary science and sport science. 

Degrees in these subjects are a great preparation to becoming a scientist in a specialist field, for example as a vet, biotechnology researcher or conservation expert.

However, the skills you’ll pick up through these courses, such as problem solving, data analysis and research, are also transferable to jobs that don’t require a lab coat. Non-science career paths include consultancy, teaching, political policy and law.  

UK universities have supported many scientific breakthroughs, from the theory of evolution and natural selection, developed by University of Edinburgh and University of Cambridge alumnus Charles Darwin, to the more recent University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine, developed by Professor Sarah Gilbert and her colleagues at the University of Oxford.

Course options for the life sciences in the UK depend on the university. In general, undergraduate courses at UK universities are three years long and require you to pick one subject of study, such as biology or sports science. However, there are exceptions to this rule. At the postgraduate level, courses are specialised further, and you can choose between a taught course or a research dissertation.

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1. University of Cambridge

Founded in 1209, with alumni including Isaac Newton, Francis Crick, James Watson and Rosalind Franklin, the University of Cambridge’s long-standing reputation for scientific excellence speaks for itself.

At undergraduate level the university offers the natural sciences course, a three- or four-year programme and the framework within which most science subjects are taught at the university. This includes biology.

The first year is broad, allowing students to pick from modules covering behavioural sciences, cell biology, zoology and many more. You can increase your specialisation in second year, with the option for total specialisation from third year. Veterinary medicine is a separate six-year course.

The land economy course combines international development, economics, law and environmental science to prepare students to tackle 21st century questions about the future of the environment.  

The University of Cambridge offers lectures and labs, but is renowned for its supervisions, where students discuss their work each week with a leading researcher in the field. This system of teaching is done in small groups, usually no more than three, so students can get highly personalised mentorship on their academic progress.

2. University of Oxford

Life science courses at the University of Oxford include undergraduate degrees in biochemistry (molecular and cellular), biology and biomedical sciences. Another offering is the human sciences course, which uses an array of arts and science subjects, from genetics and demography to sociology, to study humans from an interdisciplinary viewpoint.

An even wider range of life science courses is available at master’s level and beyond. The university does not offer courses in veterinary medicine, sports science or agriculture and forestry.

As well as lectures and labs, the Oxford has classes known as tutorials, where students discuss their work each week with a leading researcher in the field. This system of teaching is done in small groups, usually no more than three, so students can access highly personalised mentorship on their academic progress.

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3.  Imperial College London

Imperial College London is the only UK university to focus entirely on science, engineering, business and medicine. 

The university is known for its strong global outlook, with around 58 per cent of its student body being international.

Courses offered in the life sciences at Imperial include biology, bioengineering, biochemistry, biotechnology, microbiology, ecology and environmental biology.

You can take these courses as a three-year or four-year programme, which includes a year abroad or a year in industry, as well as courses on management or a foreign language – such as Spanish, French or German – alongside your scientific studies. A three-year course means you will graduate with a Bachelor of Science, but many of the four-year options count as a master’s.

Notable alumni of the institution include Sir Alexander Fleming and Sir Ernst Boris Chain FRS, who together discovered penicillin, and recognition for the university’s ground-breaking work comes in the form of 14 Nobel Prizes.

4.  UCL

Located in the heart of London, UCL is a constituent college of the University of London and a member of the Russell Group.

International students make up around a third of UCL’s student body each year.

Courses on offer include biology and biochemistry, and the university has partnerships with the Natural History Museum, the Crick Institute and the ZSL London Zoo, and students can attend lectures from experts working at these institutions.

Within the UCL medical school is a three-year course in sport and exercise medical sciences, an innovative programme that applies sport science knowledge to help patients and populations tackle various diseases. 

UCL also offers an undergraduate and postgraduate course in human sciences, which brings together the disciplines of genetics, anatomy, psychology, ecology, sociology and more to create an interdisciplinary programme exploring the human body from all angles. You may also take a foreign language alongside this course.

UCL has been the birthplace of numerous significant scientific discoveries, with 29 Nobel Prizes awarded to UCL students or staff, including John O’Keefe, a current professor in the university’s research department of cell and developmental biology.

5.  University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh is comprised of three colleges: arts, humanities and social sciences; science and engineering; and medicine and veterinary medicine.

Scotland’s university system differs from England’s; it’s similar to the American major/minor system. Undergraduate courses at the University of Edinburgh are usually four years long. You have the option to take two extra subjects alongside your chosen subject in the first two years of study, before specialising entirely on one discipline in the final two years.

At the University of Edinburgh, you can choose between applied sport science and sport and recreation management.  

Within the university’s biology courses, you can choose to focus on biotechnology, biochemistry, cell biology, ecology, genetics and many other fields. Students are encouraged to either work or study abroad as part of their course.

Top universities in the UK for life sciences degrees 2022

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2022 results

UK Life Sciences Rank 2022 WUR Life Sciences Rank 2022 University City/town 
1 2 University of Cambridge Cambridge
2 =3 University of Oxford Oxford
3 15 Imperial College London London
4 22 UCL London
5 31 University of Edinburgh Edinburgh
6 39 King’s College London London
7 =66 University of Manchester Manchester
8 =86 University of Birmingham Birmingham
9 =86 University of Dundee Dundee
10 =92 University of East Anglia Norwich
11 95 University of Aberdeen Abderdeen
12 =96 University of Leeds Leeds
13 =100 University of Bristol Bristol
=14 101–125 University of Exeter Exeter
=14 101–125 University of Glasgow Glasgow
=14 101–125 Newcastle University Newcastle
=14 101–125 Queen Mary University of London London
=18 126–150 University of Nottingham Nottingham
=18 126–150 University of Reading Reading
=18 126–150 University of Sheffield Sheffield
=18 126–150 University of Southampton Southampton
=22 151–175 Lancaster University Lancaster
=22 151–175 University of St Andrews St Andrews
=22 151–175 University of York York
=25 176–200 University of Stirling Stirling
=25 176–200 University of Sussex Brighton
=27 201–250 Aberystwyth University Aberystwyth
=27 201–250 Bangor University Bangor
=27 201–250 Cardiff University Cardiff
=27 201–250 Durham University Durham
=27 201–250 University of Leicester Leicester
=27 201–250 University of Liverpool Liverpool
=27 201–250 Loughborough University Loughborough
=27 201–250 Oxford Brookes University Oxford
=27 201–250 Queen’s University Belfast Belfast
=27 201–250 Royal Veterinary College London
=27 201–250 University of Warwick Warwick
=38 251–300 University of Essex Essex
=38 251–300 University of Kent Kent
=38 251–300 University of Plymouth Plymouth
=38 251–300 Royal Holloway, University of London London
=42 301–400 University of Bath Bath
=42 301–400 University of Greenwich London
=42 301–400 Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh
=42 301–400 Liverpool John Moores University Liverpool
=42 301–400 Aston University Birmingham
=42 301–400 University of Lincoln Lincoln
=42 301–400 Manchester Metropolitan University Manchester
=42 301–400 SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) Edinburgh
=49 401–500 Brunel University London London
=49 401–500 University of Hull Hull
=49 401–500 Leeds Beckett University Leeds
=49 401–500 Nottingham Trent University Nottingham
=49 401–500 University of Portsmouth Portsmouth
=49 401–500 University of Surrey Guilford
=49 401–500 Ulster University Ulster
=56 501–600 Bournemouth University Bournemouth
=56 501–600 University of Brighton Brighton
=56 501–600 Coventry University Coventry
=56 501–600 Keele University Keele
=56 501–600 Northumbria University Northumbria
=56 501–600 University of Salford Salford
=62 601–800 University of Central Lancashire Preston
=62 601–800 University of the West of England Bristol

Explore the top universities in the UK for life sciences degrees using data from the Times Higher Education World University Rankings