Global health education in the United Kingdom: a review of university undergraduate and postgraduate programmes and courses

Public Health. 2015 Jun;129(6):797-809. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2014.12.015. Epub 2015 Mar 4.


Objectives: This study reviews the current state of global health education (GHE) in the United Kingdom (UK) through the collation and synthesis of data on undergraduate and postgraduate global health degree programmes. It examines both the curriculum provided and profile of the student currently studying global health in the UK.

Study design: Descriptive, case study design.

Methods: A systematic review of the literature identified a set of global health 'core competencies' that students could acquire through their chosen programme of study. Those competencies were synthesized and then compared to core and elective courses currently offered by global health degree programmes at UK universities. A questionnaire was designed and sent electronically to all global health Programme Directors requesting generic information regarding the profile of their global health students.

Results: Fifteen universities in the UK, based in England and Scotland, offered twenty-five postgraduate and six undergraduate global health degree programmes in 2012-13. Two Universities were developing a full, three-year, undergraduate degree programme in global health. Sixteen core competencies for a medical and non-medical student constituency were identified. Of these, just three 'core competencies' - epidemiology of tropical diseases, health systems (including health system management), and health care services - corresponded directly to core and elective courses offered by >50% of UK universities. The five most frequently offered subjects were: health systems (including health system management), research methods, public health (including specialisations in prevention, treatment and care), epidemiology, and health economics.

Conclusions: GHE in UK universities has seen comparable growth to North American institutions, becoming Europe's regional hub for undergraduate and postgraduate courses and programmes. As with the US and Canadian experience, GHE at the undergraduate level is offered primarily to medical students through intercalated degree programmes. At the postgraduate level, there is more innovation in content and mode of delivery, with a small number of UK universities providing students from a diversity of backgrounds the opportunity to study global health from multidisciplinary perspectives. Distance learning is also seeking to make the delivery of GHE truly global, with a growing number of universities recognizing its potential to further innovate in global health pedagogy. While demand for GHE is predicted to remain robust, to ensure the needs of students and practitioners are met, more critical reflection on global health curricula, the desired profile of graduates, and equity of access is required.

Keywords: Core competencies; Global health; Medical education; Postgraduate training.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Curriculum*
  • Education, Graduate
  • Education, Medical, Graduate
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate
  • Global Health / education*
  • Humans
  • Program Evaluation
  • United Kingdom
  • Universities*