Study Chemical Engineering – A Comprehensive Subject Guide

A branch of engineering that combines principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and biology to solve real-world problems related to the design, operation, and optimisation of processes that involve chemical or biological transformations. This field plays a crucial role in various industries, including petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, energy production, environmental protection, and more.

chemical engineering

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What is Chemical Engineering?

Chemical engineering is an engineering discipline that combines principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and biology to design, develop, and optimise processes for transforming raw materials into valuable products. These processes can involve chemical reactions, separation techniques, and various unit operations.

Chemical engineers typically hold a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, although related disciplines like materials science and process engineering can also be relevant. Advanced degrees (master’s or Ph.D.) are common for those pursuing research, academia, or specialised roles. 

Chemical engineers play a crucial role in developing and optimising processes that impact numerous aspects of daily life, from the production of everyday products to environmental protection and energy sustainability. Their work is essential for improving the efficiency and sustainability of industrial processes and addressing global challenges.

Why Study Chemical Engineering?

  • Problem Solving: Chemical engineers are trained to solve complex problems related to chemical processes, materials, and industrial operations. This problem-solving skill is highly transferable and valuable in various industries.
  • Diverse Career Opportunities: Chemical engineering offers a wide range of career opportunities in industries such as petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, energy, environmental protection, and more. This diversity allows you to explore different fields and adapt your career to your interests.
  • Innovation: Chemical engineers often work on cutting-edge technologies and innovations, whether it’s developing new materials, designing sustainable processes, or improving energy efficiency. If you enjoy innovation and staying at the forefront of technology, chemical engineering is a great fit.
  • Global Relevance: Chemical engineers are in demand worldwide because their skills are crucial for industries that impact the global economy. This can lead to international job opportunities and career mobility.

Best Universities for Chemical Engineering in the UK​

Here is a list of the top UK universities in this field according to the latest QS World University Ranking:

RankInstitutionEntry StandardsStudent SatisfactionResearch QualityContinuationGraduate prospects outcomesGraduate prospects on trackOverall Score
1University of Cambridge2233.69100.096.070.0100.0
2University of Oxford2204.083.6797.998.086.099.5
3Imperial College London2114.263.7495.6100.086.098.9
4University of Southampton1683.923.5891.082.093.8
5University of Bath1793.813.3098.895.088.093.7
6University of Birmingham1734.083.4996.490.080.093.0
7University of Strathclyde2124.133.3096.
8University of Nottingham1794.123.4298.983.070.092.1
9UCL (University College London)1873.833.5893.386.078.091.7
10Queen's University Belfast1583.573.3298.996.086.091.4
11University of Leeds1653.853.5198.687.074.091.4
12University of Manchester1703.623.4898.588.078.091.2
13Loughborough University1583.913.2698.390.080.090.9
14The University of Edinburgh2013.533.3895.
15University of Sheffield1464.203.5397.680.078.090.5
16Heriot-Watt University2014.073.3890.789.088.090.0
17Newcastle University1403.643.4297.484.074.087.6
18Swansea University1334.003.2598.379.070.087.0
19Lancaster University1453.883.2396.880.068.086.9
20University of Bradford1203.932.81100.
21University of Surrey1383.993.3395.673.070.086.1
22University of Aberdeen1954.102.9294.
23Aston University, Birmingham1244.112.9797.478.068.085.1
24Ulster University1503.933.2982.981.082.084.7
25Teesside University, Middlesbrough4.132.6094.784.074.084.4
26University of Hull1224.163.0389.779.074.083.6
27Brunel University London1243.662.9295.878.076.083.5
28London South Bank University1123.942.8096.888.062.083.4
29Sheffield Hallam University1133.962.8997.
30Queen Mary University of London1364.11100.
31University of Wolverhampton4.492.4991.959.072.080.5
32University of Chester1173.742.25100.
33University of Portsmouth3.852.6997.358.066.079.1
34University of the West of Scotland3.732.46100.
35University of Greenwich1073.882.9086.477.8
36University of Huddersfield1123.802.5083.468.066.075.2

Entry Requirements for a Chemical Engineering Degree

Academic Qualifications:

  • A-levels or Equivalent: Most universities in the UK require A-levels or equivalent qualifications. You will typically need three A-levels, with specific requirements for subjects related to science and mathematics. Chemistry and mathematics are often required, and physics may also be preferred or required.
  • International Baccalaureate (IB): If you’re taking the IB, you’ll typically need a total of 34-36 points, with higher-level subjects in chemistry and mathematics.
  • BTEC: Some universities may accept BTEC qualifications, particularly if they are in subjects like engineering, science, or mathematics. Specific requirements may vary.
  • GCSEs (or Equivalent): You’ll typically need a strong set of GCSEs or equivalent qualifications, including English, mathematics, and science subjects. Grades in these subjects are often considered when making offers.
  • English Language Proficiency: If English is not your first language, you will need to demonstrate proficiency through an English language test such as IELTS or TOEFL. Most universities will require a minimum score, which can vary but is often around IELTS 6.0-7.0 or equivalent.

Jobs for Chemical Engineering Graduates

Here are the career prospects for graduates in this field:

  • Process Engineer: Process engineers design, optimise, and manage industrial processes in sectors like petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, and manufacturing. They focus on efficiency, safety, and environmental sustainability.
  • Chemical Plant Operator: Plant operators oversee the day-to-day operations of chemical manufacturing facilities, ensuring that processes run smoothly, safely, and efficiently.
  • Research and Development (R&D) Engineer: R&D engineers work on developing new products, processes, and materials. They conduct experiments, analyse data, and contribute to innovation in industries such as chemicals, materials science, and pharmaceuticals.
  • Environmental Engineer: Environmental engineers work on projects related to pollution control, waste treatment, and sustainability. They help industries comply with environmental regulations and reduce their environmental footprint.

What Career Paths do Chemical Engineering Graduates Follow?

15 months after graduation, 34% of chemical engineering graduates work as engineering professionals, showcasing the direct application of their skills. Other roles include IT professionals, business, research, and administrative professionals, finance professionals, and more. Overall, 72.7% are employed, with 9.8% pursuing further study and 7.5% working and studying simultaneously. Temporary unemployment is at 6.5%, and 3.5% fall into other categories. In terms of roles, 42.9% are in engineering, 20.5% in business, HR, and finance, 10.5% in IT, and 5.4% in other professions, while 20.7% explore diverse career paths, highlighting the adaptability of chemical engineering graduates.

What Career Paths do Chemistry Graduates Take?

21% work as natural and social science professionals, applying their chemistry background. Other roles include science, engineering, and production technicians, teaching, finance, IT, and business professionals, as well as quality and regulatory roles. Overall, 60.1% are employed, with 21.5% pursuing further study and 8.2% combining work and study. Temporary unemployment is at 5.7%, and 4.5% fall into other categories. In terms of work types, 34.4% contribute to science, 16.8% to business, HR, and finance, 8.8% to engineering, 6.5% to education, and 33.5% to various other fields, illustrating the diverse paths chemistry graduates take.

Salary for Chemical Engineering Graduates

Check out the average salary for graduates in this field: 

Low skilled: £23,000

Medium-skilled: £23,000

High-skilled: £30,000


Topics for Chemical Engineering Dissertation

Below, we present a diverse array of research areas, each offering an opportunity to delve into the complexities of Chemical Engineering and make a significant contribution to its advancement:

  1. Optimisation of Chemical Processes:
    • Investigating optimisation techniques for chemical processes to enhance efficiency and reduce waste.
    • Application of machine learning and artificial intelligence for process optimisation.
  2. Sustainable Energy Production:
    • Designing and evaluating sustainable energy production methods, such as renewable energy technologies or advanced energy storage systems.
    • Exploring novel materials for energy conversion and storage.
  3. Bioprocess Engineering:
    • Studying bioprocesses for the production of biofuels, biopolymers, or pharmaceuticals.
    • Investigating the use of genetically engineered microorganisms in bioprocessing.

How Much Does it Cost to Study in the UK

One of the most important things to consider is how much the degree is going to cost. Here is a general guide for 2023/2024:

  • For home students in England, universities can charge up to a maximum of £9,250 per year for an undergraduate degree.
  • In Wales, institutions can charge up to £9,000 for home students. However, Welsh students can apply for a fee grant to cover some of the cost of their tuition fees. This grant is currently not repayable or income-assessed.
  • Northern Irish universities will charge up to £4,275 for home students and may charge up to £9,250 for students from elsewhere in the UK.
  • Scotland does not charge home students fees at the undergraduate level; however, students from England, Wales, or Northern Ireland are expected to pay up to £9,250 per year. International students from outside of the UK will pay significantly more to study in Scotland.
  • International students can expect to pay between £10,000 and £26,000 annually for lecture-based undergraduate degrees at universities across the UK. An undergraduate medical degree can cost overseas students up to £58,600 per year. As for postgraduate degrees, the average cost is estimated to be around £17,109 per year.
Besides the tuition fees, there are also several other cost considerations such as food, accommodation, phone bills, books, social life, memberships, and others. Remember to check out our free student budget calculator

Other Subjects to Consider

Given that you are interested in this subject area, you might also want to consider the following options: 

  • Mechanical Engineering: Mechanical engineering focuses on designing, analysing, and manufacturing mechanical systems and devices. It covers a wide range of applications, from robotics to automotive engineering and aerospace.
  • Electrical Engineering: Electrical engineers work with electronics, electrical systems, and electrical circuits. This field includes areas like power generation, telecommunications, and electronics design.
  • Materials Science and Engineering: Materials scientists and engineers study the properties and behaviour of materials and develop new materials with specific properties for various applications, including electronics, aerospace, and renewable energy.
  • Civil Engineering: Civil engineers design and oversee the construction of infrastructure projects such as buildings, bridges, roads, and dams. This field has a significant impact on urban development and sustainability.
  • Biomedical Engineering: Biomedical engineers work at the intersection of engineering and biology, developing medical devices, healthcare technologies, and solutions for improving human health.

Frequently Asked Questions

Consider your interests, passions, and career goals. Research various degree programmes and their content to see which aligns best with your aspirations.

While earning potential is important, it’s also crucial to select a degree that you’re passionate about and suits your skills. A balance between your interests and potential career prospects is ideal.

Location can impact your overall university experience. Consider factors like cost of living, proximity to industry hubs, and personal preferences.

Evaluate tuition fees, available scholarships, and potential for part-time work. Create a budget to ensure you can manage your finances during your studies.

Consider combining your passions with practical skills. For example, if you love art but want job security, explore fields like graphic design or digital marketing.

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