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Higher education university studentsHigher Education in the UK applies to any form of education that results in a level 4+ qualification. Higher Education qualifications can be gained in both universities and Further Education (FE) colleges.

Widely available Higher Education qualifications and courses include:

HNCs and HNDs 

These are practical-based, work-related courses provided by HE and FE colleges. An HNC (Higher National Certificate) is a level 4 qualification, equal to the first year at university, which takes one year full-time to complete (or longer part-time). An HND (Higher National Diploma) is a level 5 qualification, which takes two years to complete (or three to four years part-time). After gaining an HND, some universities offer the opportunity to complete a third and final year of study, turning the qualification into a full undergraduate degree. Subjects tend to be technology or science-based and lean towards a specific profession as an outcome. 

Foundation degrees

Not to be confused with an art foundation degree, a foundation degree is a combined academic and vocational qualification. They are well suited to those who are unsure about taking a full degree or for people who want to study while they work. Because foundation degrees are generally vocational, the outcome tends to be a job in a specific area. They usually take two years full-time to complete (longer for part-time students) and are equivalent to two-thirds of a university degree. Normally, you can continue for a further year to gain a full undergraduate degree.

University degrees

A degree is a level 6+ course which is studied at university. By degree, most people mean an undergraduate degree, also called a Bachelor’s degree. These can be taken in a range of subjects and include both a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science. There are also postgraduate degrees, which can be completed by those who already have an undergraduate degree and are returning to complete a further, higher level degree. Usually, but not always, this degree and subject will be an extension, or relevant, to the student’s original degree. 

Degree apprenticeships

These is a relatively new type of programme offered by employers and universities, in which students achieve a full Bachelor’s or master’s degree as part of their apprenticeship in a workplace. It is a good way to combine working with studying part-time at a university. Around 20 per cent of time is spent studying at university (eg for one or two days a week or blocks of a whole week at a time) and the remaining 80 per cent of time is spent working. It takes anywhere between three to six years to complete, depending on course level. A large number of employers now offer them, ranging from PWC to city councils.


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