Higher Education in the North East

Higher education refers to any qualification taken that is level 4 or above, i.e. after a student has finished their sixth form or college education. There are a range of different qualifications available, covering a breadth of subjects. There is a great deal of flexibility in Higher Education, with the opportunity to study at university or college or in the workplace, and the ability to choose between part-time and full-time study. The differences in qualifications means they suit different learning styles and career plans. We have provided a summary of these qualifications below. 

Level 4

Higher National Certificate (HNC)

1 year full-time 2 years part time

HNCs are a great stepping stone to other higher education courses, but are also a great standalone qualification. They are work-related courses that are equivalent to the first year of a university degree programme. Upon completion students can progress onto a Higher National Diploma, or enter into the world of work equipped with their new knowledge. Some examples of HNC courses include sports coaching, health and social care and dental nurse practice. 

Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE)

1 year full-time, 2 years part-time

An academic qualification equivalent to the more vocational HNC. An ideal course for those who may be unsure about taking a longer qualification, or who do not have the academic requirements for a longer course. A CertHE qualification will allow individuals to access other courses upon completion. 

Higher Apprenticeship

At least 1 year 

Apprenticeships are the work based training routes in which students combine work and study to gain a recognised qualification. Students are expected to undertake a minimum of 30 hours in the workplace each week, in addition to study at a university or college. Apprenticeships usually take the form of four days a week in the workplace, with one spent studying (although this depends on the course). Those studying an apprenticeship are paid for their work and also do not pay tuition fees. The minimum an apprentice is paid is £3.50p/h which rises if the student is over 19 or completing more than their first year. 

Level 5

Higher National Diploma (HND)

2 years full-time

A step up from a HNC these work related courses can be ëtopped-upí to a full bachelorís degree with further study. Those looking to enter practical careers in areas such as health and social care and agriculture may well benefit more from a HND than they would a bachelorís degree. Students may be expected to undertake work placements as part of their HND, giving them a range of experiences before entering full time work themselves. 

Diploma of Higher Education

2 years full-time

An academic qualification equivalent to the more vocational HND. 

Foundation Degree

2 years full-time

These courses combine work and academic study. These can be topped up to gain a bachelorís level degree with further study and therefore make an ideal qualification for those who are unsure about committing to a full bachelorís degree. 

Level 6

Bachelor's Degree

Typically 3 years full-time 

There are a vast range of degree subjects available to study and these courses lead to people achieving a Bachelor of Science degree (BSc) or a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA), depending on the discipline studied. Both will involve mostly classroom based learning in seminars and lectures, although these courses can also include a year in industry or a year abroad depending on the institution and course.  

Degree Apprenticeship
Degree apprenticeships combine work with academic study, so typically students will spend four days in the workplace, and one at university or college (although this depends on the course). Upon completion of the Degree Apprenticeship students will be awarded a full Bachelorís degree. Apprentices are paid a wage whilst completing the qualification which is dependent on their age, the length of time they have been studying for the qualification and the employer. Apprentices incur no tuition fees as these costs are met by the government and the employer. 

Level 7

Integrated Master's Degree

4-5 years full-time

These are 4-5 year courses whereby the student completes a bachelors and masterís degree in one continued period of study. 

Master's Degree 

A postgraduate qualification that can be taught or research based, usually taking a year to complete. These courses usually involve a period of independent research, especially in the scientific disciplines. 

This is a one year qualification that enables students to gain qualified teacher status (QTS). The course comprises of academic study and assignments, in addition to practical placements and assessments within schools. 

Level 8


A postgraduate qualification allowing students to obtain the prefix Dr upon completion. They involve an in depth piece of research in an academic discipline and allow individuals to enter a career in academia upon completion, i.e. lecturing at a university or working in research. 

Multiple Levels Available

National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ)

Available levels 4-7

NVQs can be awarded at six different levels, e.g. NVQ level 6 is equivalent to a bachelorís degree. These qualifications focus on practical skills in the context of full-time work, and students must be employed before enrolling onto an NVQ. Students are assessed through the submission of a portfolio and being observed and assessment happens as and when a student is ready, meaning there are no stringent time limits in place when studying for an NVQ.