When studying higher education, we know there can often be a number of acronyms involved, be it FdAs, HNCs or HNDs, which can get confusing. That's why we've set out below the most crucial information about the qualifications so you can feel safe in the knowledge that you’re making the right choice.

Here’s our guide to higher education qualifications

The levels of education

In order to understand higher education qualifications, it’s important to understand how the levels of education work. The below chart gives a general overview of how levels in education work;

LevelGCEBTECAccess to HEHigher NationalsDegree
8           Doctorate
7           Masters
6           Degree (BA, BSc)
5       HND Foundation Degree
4       HNC
3 A Level, A2, AS Extended/Subsidiary Diploma Diploma      
2 GCSE (A*-C 9-4) Diploma        
1 GCSE (D-G 3-1) Certificate / Diploma        

What are Higher National Certificates?

Higher National Certificates or HNCs are work-specific, undergraduate qualifications. This means that they are usually focused on work-related skills and studies that learners can directly implement into effective use in a specific field or profession. HNCs are a Level 4 course and are generally accepted as being the equivalent to the first year of a full degree which opens a number progression routes onto further study as well as job opportunities and positive career progression.

What are Higher national diplomas?

Higher National Diplomas, or HNDs as they’re commonly referred to are similar to HNC courses however, are at a higher level. Where a HNC is the equivalent to the first year of a full degree, HNDs are a Level 5 courses and are generally accepted to be the equivalent of two years degree level study. HND and HNC courses are widely valued by employers as they are heavily focused on specific work-place skills which can immediately put into practise. Like employers, universities also greatly value HNDs and on completion, learners can usually progress directly onto the third year of study to complete a full bachelor’s degree.

What are foundation degrees?

Foundation degrees or FdAs are similar to HNDs and carry the same weight. Like with HNDs they’re the equivalent of two thirds of a full bachelor’s degree and have a focus on specific vocations. They combine degree level academic studies with work-place learning to provide an all-round two year provision for those looking for in-depth training. Foundation degrees are perfect for those who are not yet ready to commit to three years at university.

What are the differences between HNDs and FdAs?

You may be thinking that FdAs and HNDs sound very similar, and they are in many ways. There are however a number of key differences;

  • Where HNDs are wholeheartedly focused on work-place skills, FdAs provide learners with the knowledge to achieve academic results while also training them for a specific job.
  • HNDs have a focus on “learning by doing” whilst FdAs have a more traditional approach to academic studies with an element of work-place learning.

What about teacher education?

Qualifications in teacher education can be a little different to the above. In teacher education there are a number of additional qualifications considered as higher hducation:


A Postgraduate Certificate in Education or PGCE is a one or two-year higher education course that is recognised in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. These courses are for people with a degree who want to get into teaching and are essential to teach in primary or secondary education.

Cert Ed

A Certification in Education or Cert Ed, is similar to a PGCE in the sense that those who hold a Cert Ed, can teach. These are designed for those who hold a higher education qualification and work-related experience, but not a bachelor’s degree. Having a Certificate in Education allows you to teach in a professional capacity at a Further Education (FE) or Higher Education (HE) institution, but not at a Primary or Secondary level.

What higher education qualifications do we offer at Central Bedfordshire College?

Here at Central Bedfordshire College, we offer a wide range of higher education courses that span across levels and specialisms in the below areas:

  • Business and Accounting
  • Childcare
  • Health and Social Care
  • Teacher Education

Take a look at our higher education courses today.