Higher education lowdown

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If you’re coming to the end of further education, or perhaps you’ve been in full-time employment for a while, it’s worth considering higher education. Not only can it create new opportunities, a higher education qualification can help you earn more money in the long run, too.

Higher education (also known as HE) is all about taking your learning to the next level, discovering new things and getting closer to where you want to be – whatever your age, nationality or social background.

There are several higher education qualifications available, these include a degree, a Higher National Certificate (HNC), a Higher National Diploma (HND), or a higher education diploma. You’ll be studying for two to four years, depending on the qualification you choose.

You can enter higher education via a number of routes, including after completing A Levels, diplomas, apprenticeships, or vocational programmes. The qualifications you need in most cases are A Levels or Scottish Highers or equivalent qualifications.

It’s not just universities that offer high education courses, you can also study at higher education colleges or specialist art institutions. There are currently over 350 institutions of higher education and over two million students in higher education in the UK, according to HERO (Higher Education & Research Opportunities). And there’s a broad range of courses available, including ones where you can combine more than one subject, and courses that offer flexible learning (where you can study part-time, at home or at your own pace to fit in with your current commitments). There are over 55,000 courses available in Britain through UCAS (Universities & Colleges Admissions Service), the organisation responsible for managing applications to UK higher education courses.

Your options
If you’re interested in higher education, choose a course that is right for you

Degree
With so many subjects and variations to choose from, you’re guaranteed to find a course that suits you. The most common is a three-year degree, which leads to a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc) qualification. A four-year degree, such as those in Scotland or those that involve a year in industry or a year abroad, leads to the same awards. Foundation degrees are designed jointly by universities, colleges and employers and combine academic study with workplace learning. They last one to two years and can lead straight to a job, or can be used to progress to a bachelors degree with further study.

Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Higher National Diploma (HND) These are level 5 qualifications that are studied at college. They are work-related and are designed to teach you the skills for that particular job, for example you can study hospitality management, agriculture or sport sciences. They take one year to complete full-time and two years on a part-time basis.

Diploma of higher education These usually take two years and you can normally convert your diploma to a degree with an extra year of study. You can choose from a variety of subjects, such as accounting, construction, engineering, nursing, science, technology and textile design.

As a mature student
Higher education isn’t just for teens, a large amount of UK undergraduates are over 21. Mature students choose to get into higher education for a number of reasons – to open up new career paths, to gain more skills and confidence in a particular field, to boost employability in uncertain times, or for others it might be a life-long ambition. Many companies support staff who want to gain a higher education qualification and some employers are even willing to help with course costs. If you’ve got family or work commitments, you can study part-time, locally or with flexible study options.

The benefits
A higher education qualification gives you an upper hand in the job market for a number of reasons. These include:

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