What is Higher Education?

Higher Education (HE) refers to qualifications at Level 4 or above.  A full honours degree course is not the only way to gain a higher education qualification, there are lots of other flexible study options that will help you to achieve your goals.

What's the right level for you?

Access to Higher Education

Access to HE Diplomas are Level 3 qualifications that prepare adults for university. If you don’t have the traditional entry requirements, Access to HE could provide a route to progress.


Higher National Certificate (HNC)

1 year full-time or 2 years part time

HNC's 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 computing.

Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE)

1 year full-time or 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 National Diploma (HND)

2 years full-time

A step up from a HNC, these work related courses can be topped-up to a full bachelor’s 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 bachelor’s 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. 

Foundation Degree

2 years full-time

Foundation Degrees combine work and academic study. These can be topped up to gain a bachelors level degree with further study and therefore make an ideal qualification for those who are unsure about committing to a full bachelor’s degree. 

Bachelor's Degree Top Up

Typically 1 year full-time 

There are a range of degree subjects available to study and these courses lead to people achieving a Bachelor of Science degree (BSc), a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA) or Bachelor of Engineering degree (BEng), depending on the discipline studied. All will involve mostly classroom based learning in seminars and lectures.

Post-graduate Diploma

A professional qualification that aims to develop knowledge and skills required for specific jobs in a variety of sectors and industries. They are usually awarded by professional bodies in line with their charters.

Higher Apprenticeship

Study and work at the same time with a higher apprenticeship.  These work-based learning programmes will allow you to gain nationally recognised higher education qualifications, such as a foundation degree or an honours degree while being employed and learning job specific skills at a high level.

Higher Education Myth Buster

100%of our HND students progressed to employment or further study


(*Based on HND student destination data, 2016/17 academic year).

Why choose Sunderland College?

Our highly qualified and experienced staff deliver a range of programmes from HNCs, HNDs to foundation degrees and degrees.

100% of our HNC students progressed to employment or further study.*

(*Destination data, academic year 2016/17 - HNC 19+ students )

We have approximately 600 higher education students with just over half studying full-time.

Sunderland College has been awarded TEF Silver award in recognition of our teaching excellence.*

(*The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework 2018)