Higher National Certificates and Diplomas (HNCs and HNDs)

A HNC is a higher national certificate and a HND is a higher national diploma. The time it takes to complete each qualification will vary between different providers. These qualifications tend to be of a more practical and vocational nature. They are designed to give you the skills to put specialist knowledge to effective use in a particular job. They are both reputable qualifications that are highly valued by employers both in the UK and overseas, and can also count towards membership of professional bodies and other employer organisations.

A HND can be differentiated from a HNC by the amount of time it takes to complete the course. A HND normally takes two years to complete full time, or three to four years when studied part time. A HNC typically takes just a year to finish if taken full time, or two years if studied part time.

Many HNDs include the HNC within their structure so if you’ve already completed a HNC, you may then be able to complete a relevant HND in one year.

HND and HNC courses are not equal in qualification value. A HNC is one level below a HND, so HNC courses are equivalent to studying one year at university, while HND courses are the same as studying two years at university. On the Qualifications and Credit Framework, HNCs are rated at level 4, and HNDs at level 5.

Where can they lead?

Because HNCs and HNDs are designed to give you the skills for a particular field of work, they can lead straight to a career. You can also use the qualifications to progress within your current career to gain professional status.

HNCs and HNDs are flexible degree pathway programmes, and can be converted into a full degree with additional study. Students taking an HNC can transfer to the second year of a degree course, while an HND normally lets you start the third year of a degree course.

Foundation Degrees (FdA, FdSc)

Foundation degrees are nationally recognised qualifications focusing either on a particular job or profession.  They combine work place learning with academic study.

The study methods can be very flexible, which means that they are available to people who are already in work, wanting to embark on a career change or who have recently completed Level 3 qualifications (e.g. A levels, Advanced Apprenticeships or NVQ3).

A foundation degree is equivalent to two thirds of an honours degree and they aim to enhance the professional and technical skills of staff within a profession or those intending to go into that profession.

You can use a foundation degree to change careers or progress your current career

  • gain technical and professional skills
  • gain professional recognition
  • achieve a full honours degree through further study

Degrees (BA, BSc, BEd, BEng)

Undergraduate or Bachelors degrees are nationally recognised qualifications consisting of academic study designed to give you an in depth understanding of that particular subject.

There are different titles and levels of degree, such as:

  • BA - Bachelor of Arts
  • BEng - Bachelor of Engineering

Top-up Degrees

If you already have a Foundation degree, or another relevant qualification like a HND, you can complete just one year of study on a Top-up degree.  This will allow you to achieve a full Honours level qualification and graduate with a BSc (Hons) or BA (Hons).

Advanced and Higher Apprenticeships

An advanced apprenticeship is a step above an Intermediate Apprenticeship. It’s a chance to access training, develop skills and gain qualifications whilst working for an employer.

Advanced Apprenticeships tend to last around 24 months, but they can be longer or shorter.  A huge variety of different employers offer Advanced Apprenticeships.

Companies might run their apprenticeship in partnership with a training provider like us, meaning you’ll split your time between working at the company and attending college or an employer might run the apprenticeship themselves and have their own in-house training sessions.

What is a Higher Apprenticeship?

A Higher Apprenticeship operates like a normal apprenticeship in the sense that it will give you a mixture of on and off-the-job training. It’s the only type of apprenticeship that leads to a Level 4 or above qualification, which is the equivalent of a higher education qualification.

These apprenticeships are designed to develop your skills and qualifications to the highest standard and in some cases, they offer another route to gaining a university qualification.

There are fewer higher apprenticeships but more and more companies and organisations are offering them.

What qualifications will I need?

Generally, to do an Advanced Apprenticeship you must have either completed an Intermediate Apprenticeship or have a certain number of GCSEs (or equivalent); although this isn’t always the case.

If you need to improve your skills, such as literacy and numeracy, there’s an Access to Apprenticeship scheme run by the National Apprenticeship Service.

Most employers will be looking for those with at least five GCSEs grades A*-C.


For more information you can use the Qualifications Guide Tool on the 'coursesplus' website.