A bachelor's degree such as a BA, BSc, or BEng is a three (or four) year undergraduate course. They typically consist of regular lectures, coursework and exams. Science and engineering courses will also include labs and other practical sessions. These are usually undertaken after completing A-Levels, Scottish Highers or equivalent.
Other undergraduate qualifications include a certificate or diploma of higher education (CertHE or DipHE) which are equivalent to one or two years of an undergraduate degree, respectively. Similarly, Higher National Certificates or Diplomas (HNC or HND) are vocational-based courses which are also equivalent to the first or second year of a bachelor’s degree. A foundation year or a foundation degree is a viable option for those who don’t yet meet the standard entry requirements onto a bachelor’s degree. Generally, these undergraduate courses can be studied as standalone qualifications or as stepping-stones on your way to a full bachelor’s degree.
Master's degrees are a higher level of study than bachelor's degrees and involve studying a topic in more depth. Most technical roles and PhDs require a postgraduate master's such as an MSc or MA. This can either be a taught course with lectures, or a research course involving independent study.
If you don't have a degree you can study for an integrated master's. This is like a bachelor's degree but lasts for four (or five) years and leads to an MEng, MPhys, or MSci*. Some universities only offer integrated master's for certain courses, particularly engineering.
Although on paper they are the same level qualification, an MSc allows you to specialise more in your field whereas a combined masters is a continuation of your undergraduate degree but to a higher level. A research master's is particularly good preparation for a PhD and is required by some universities. These are often funded in the same ways as PhDs. If you're worried about being an older student, don't be - MScs tend to be a popular option after a few years of work to open doors for the field you want to go into.
*These are the most common abbreviations for master's courses, but there are many different ones and not all variants are listed here.
There are also options to do undergraduate and postgraduate study via distance learning.
For undergraduate courses, government grants and loans are available through Student Finance regardless of how long your course is.
For postgraduate master's courses, there are a number of loans, grants and scholarships available. There is the option of taking out a Career Development Loan (different to Student Finance as you have to repay it whether you are earning or not). From 2016, the Government have introduced the postgraduate loan, which enables you to borrow up to £10,000 for course fees and living expenses. Unlike the Career Development Loans, you would pay this back along with any other students loans you have.
Both undergraduate and postgraduate students can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA); this funding is non-repayable.
If you do a course that includes study abroad you can also apply for an Erasmus grant.