Higher Education – at university, online or at college

Thinking of going to University or College to study Higher Education?

Higher Education [HE] applies to any form of education that results in a qualification at level 4 or higher.

If you want to continue learning, you may want to go to University or Further Education College to study for a higher-level qualification or an undergraduate degree.

You can also study online, with many organisations offering this option, with part-time study at a university or fully online, with tutor support and examination.

Note: There are four major categories of degrees available after secondary school or college studies (e.g. after level 3 qualification such as A levels or T levels):

1. foundation or
2. bachelor's,
then progress to
1. master's and
2. doctoral degrees

Examples of the types of undergraduate courses you can do:

  • Bachelor degree courses
  • Foundation years [sometimes called ‘year zero’]
  • Diploma in Foundation Studies [Art & Design]
  • Foundation degrees
  • Higher National Certificates [HNC] and Higher National Diploma [HND] and other incremental routes

Bachelor Degree

Undergraduate degrees are a level 6 qualification and are called bachelor’s degrees.

Bachelor degrees usually last either three or four years if studied full-time (although some courses are longer e.g. medicine and architecture). You can concentrate on a single subject, combine two subjects in a single course (often called dual or joint honours courses), or choose several subjects (combined honours). Most courses have core modules which everyone studies, and many courses allow you to choose options or modules to make up a course that suits you.

Some bachelor degrees offer a sandwich year, involving an additional placement or year in industry, which forms part of the course. This is common on language degree programmes and some business courses.

There are also courses which include both a bachelor degree and a top up to the next level- a postgraduate-level study, known as integrated master’s. Integrated master’s being at undergraduate level, then continue for an extra year [or more] so you are awarded a master’s degree at the end. These are most common in engineering or science subjects. [reference source: UCAS website]

Foundation years

Some degrees offer a foundation or qualifying year as the first year, sometimes called ‘year zero’. They are generally one year, full-time courses delivered at a university or college, and can be offered as a 'standalone' course, or as part of a degree. You'll still be treated as a full-time undergraduate student.

Foundation years are designed to develop the skills and subject-specific knowledge required to undertake a degree course and specialise in a subject area.

If your grades weren’t suitable, or you studied combinations of subjects at school or college that mean you don’t meet the entry requirements for your chosen course, a foundation year could be perfect. Not all universities and colleges offer foundation years.

Most students who take a foundation year choose to stay at the same university or college to complete their full degree, but it may be possible to apply for a full-time degree course elsewhere if you complete the course successfully. You will need to check this with the individual universities and colleges concerned. You will also pay tuition fees for your foundation year. [reference source: UCAS website]

Diploma in Foundation Studies [Art & Design]

Sometimes called ‘Art Foundation’, this is a one year course that is widely recognised as a primary route to gain entry to the most prestigious art and design courses. The learning is tailored to a student’s specific area of art and design subject interest, so they progress to study in that area at degree level.

For funding purposes, this course is classified as a further education course, so student loans [for tuition and living costs] are not available, even if you take the course at a university or college. However, UK/EU students under the age of 19 on the 31 August of the year of entry will not be charged a tuition fee. [reference source UCAS website]

Foundation degrees

Foundation degree qualifications are vocational, combining academic study and workplace learning. They focus on a particular job or profession and provide you with the professional and technical skills to further your career. If you are unsure about taking a full degree or if you want to study whilst working, then this could be the option for you.

There are no set entry requirements for foundation degrees [unlike full degrees], as company training and relevant work experience may be considered more relevant. This route is a good option for students who need a course with lower entry requirements and fewer examinations.

They usually take two years full-time to complete, or longer for part-time students.

It is equivalent to two thirds of a Bachelor’s degree and you can normally continue for a further year [‘top up’ year] to gain a full honours degree, should you wish to gain a full degree or go into employment.

Higher National Certificates [HNC] and Higher National Diploma [HND] and other incremental routes

Both the Higher National Certificate [HNC] and Higher National Diploma [HND] are work-related courses. They are designed to equip you with the skills relevant to your chosen career.

The Higher National Certificate [Level 4] is a one-year course, equivalent to the first year of a university degree programme.

The Higher National Diploma [Level 5] is a two-year course, equivalent to the first two years of a bachelors degree.

It is possible to progress from these courses to complete a full bachelors degree at a university, either through a specific top-up course, or by directly entering a degree in year three.

Flexible access higher education

If you wanted to study a degree in stages, or exit after one or two years of study, the following qualifications may also be suitable. They don’t directly lead to a degree, but you may be able go on and join the second or third year of a full degree (perhaps at the same university/college, or elsewhere) if you change your mind and want to graduate with a bachelor’s degree after all.

  • One year of a degree – a Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE) It is an academic course, rather than vocational qualification.
  • Two years of a degree – a Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) is an accredited professional qualification, making it highly respected by employers in the UK and abroad.
TOP TIPS: If you are considering higher education as your next step – then we would advise you to explore your options, take time to refine your thinking to support your decision making:

  • Review course prospectuses: course content and modules, entry requirements and fees - check out individual universities and college information.<\li>
  • Check application deadlines - some universities and courses have a different application deadline, so make sure you know the deadline associated to your chosen course or university.<\li>
  • Attend open days, if not possible in person given the current COVID-19 situation, sign up to an on-line open day. This will give you the opportunity to explore the facilities [via a virtual tour if attending an on-line open day] and talk to course tutors and current students.<\li>
Considering Higher Education? There is a range of information to help you explore your options and decide if higher education for you. See:

UCAS [University & Colleges Application Service]

Find out about university courses and everything you need to know about applying by clicking here.

Search and apply for full-time courses by course name, provider name or location - UCAS

UCAS provide guidance for students with individual needs – For disabled students and those who have learning difficulties or mental health concerns click here.

What Uni? find universities and courses, it also has a University Comparison Tool

Which? University

Unistats - provides official, impartial source of data, advice and guidance on higher education in the UK. It allows users to shortlist and compare information for undergraduate courses.

Complete University Guide - To help with your university research take a look at the university league tables and rankings

The Student Room - lots of information and On-line student community Russell Group of Universities - guidance on their entry requirements and support available at this time

Events and open days – including virtual

Unitasterdays is a directory of university events

Open days.com The university and college open day directory

Find out which Universities are holding Virtual open day events

Access a list of virtual tours and videos from universities and colleges, so you can see what it's like on campus and what facilities are available

The Sutton Trust organise summer schools which offer you the chance to experience what university life is like. Register interest for 2021

Student Finance

To find out information on student loans and grants, access a useful step by step guide and apply:

Access the Government website - Student Finance England

The Student Loans Company administers loans and grants to students in universities and colleges in the UK – To find out more information use the link below.

Both companies have published guidance for prospective and current students on student finance during the COVID 19 pandemic.

A useful read...

The latest from the Office for Students [OfS] Information - advice and guidance for prospective students (June 2020)

The OfS has produced guidance for prospective students:

'For all students looking to start higher education this year, regardless of what route they are taking to get there, the admissions process and factors affecting their decisions about what, where and how to study now look significantly different from those they would have anticipated just a few months ago.'

The importance of good information, advice and guidance

Applying to university or college can be a daunting experience even when the application cycle is operating as normal. There is a wealth of information available about higher education, but research has shown that the landscape can feel cluttered, confusing and even overwhelming to prospective students. More information does not necessarily result in better decisions if students don’t have the right support to make sense of what they are seeing.

Prospective students need to access information and advice that is impartial, accessible and as complete as possible given the circumstances, so that they can explore their options, refine their thinking and make informed choices based on their own preferences, needs, priorities and aspirations.

This has become even more important amid the current uncertainty about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect higher education in the next few months and over the longer term.

Previous polling conducted by YouthSight for the OfS found that prospective students were more likely to consult their parents, teachers and friends or peers than websites, careers advisers or staff at a higher education provider to help them make choices about what and where to study. (see Note below)

Some prospective students and others may be disadvantaged by this reliance on members of their immediate circles. Better informed choices can result in more students completing their studies and achieving positive employment and study outcomes. And there are broader societal benefits from individuals having a successful higher education experience, with graduates making huge contributions to the economy and public services...

For universities and colleges

Universities and colleges play a significant role in providing information, advice and guidance to prospective students and supporting their decision making, for example through:

  • providing prospectuses and detailed information life at the institution

  • open days, offer-holder days and campus tours

  • talks in schools on topics including student finance, university life and personal statements

  • attendance at careers and higher education fairs

  • pre-entry careers advice

  • online and telephone information and advice

  • bespoke support to particular groups. Some of these elements of IAG are covered by consumer protection law, which continues to apply during the pandemic. However, the ongoing lockdown and social distancing measures mean that such activities cannot currently be carried out face-to-face or on-campus. But simply moving this provision online is often easier said than done.
For example, running online open days can be very resource-intensive, and typically relies on institutions having had video material (like virtual campus tours) available before the lockdown started. It can also be difficult to achieve a sense of community through video conferencing, especially when some participants may be unable to use the video function.