The best way to get involved in research is to find people doing the things you want to do and simply dropping them an email to discuss your options. You’ll find that, more often than not, professors are more than willing to discuss options with you and are always looking for people to come on board.
However, you’re in the UK and academic posts are extremely limited. The government cuts are really hitting research where it hurts so getting funding in the UK will be extremely difficult, unless you’re willing to move anywhere and study for your PhD anywhere, regardless of reputation and facilities.
Every lecturer and professor I’ve spoken to over the past couple of years has said the exact same thing; get out of the UK if you want to do a PhD. If you want to get into research and your degree is of sufficient quality then head over to America and study at one of their, frankly, superior private universities. It may be a bit more expensive, but the experience would be fantastic and the facilities and resources you’d have at your disposal would be far greater than in the UK.
Studying abroad is certainly an option. I did look at the US and the prices are crazy, even moreso for international students. Tens of thousands of pounds per year as opposed to £4000/year for universities here. Unfortunately, unless I could get a scholarship that’s pretty much out of the question financially, I’ve looked at US scholarships for international students and they’re very rare. So yes, it probably would be better but I’m not sure it’s really feasible.
PhD’s differ greatly from taught courses; during your time researching you’ll have the opportunity to earn a salary either lecturing or researching on behalf of your department. More often than not the real “cost” of a PhD comes from the funding required for your research. This is why a lot of British PhD wannabes are told to look elsewhere thanks to the massive cuts to research. If you can get funding then more often than not a university will simply take your “tuition” out of any earnings you get.
As I mentioned before it’s definitely worth sending some emails off to universities that interest you, and it would definitely be worth saving up some cash in case you do decide to go into post-graduate research. Also, research the scholarships available to you. I almost applied for this scholarship a few months ago, but quit my Masters so maybe you can find use for it.
Send out to as many as you can that share your interest. The real trick will be finding a like minded prof. Most US schools can waive the tuition altogether for an international student with an assistantship. As these will be awarded at the whims of the profs it would be in your best interest in starting there.
I attended a similar thing a year ago and the funding situation there isn’t all that great. If you’re looking to study in the UK then from what I’ve been told the best place by a country-mile to get funding and support is Imperial College, London.
Funding is less of a problem in the states though, and if I were in your shoes it would be the first place I’d inquire.