Explore the benefits of the higher national diploma route

If you’ve decided that university isn’t the right choice for you but you’re still keen to continue in education then there are other options available.

Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) prepare students for careers in a specific industry.

While they can lead directly to the workplace, many students use the qualification as a stepping stone to an honours degree.

These courses tend to focus on ‘learning by doing’ and are designed to meet the needs of employers.

Both qualifications are provided by further and higher education colleges.

HNCs take about one year to complete full-time and two years part-time. 

It is equivalent to the first year of a degree.

HNDs take two years full-time and can also be taken part-time, which takes longer.

This is the equivalent to two years of a degree. Both HNCs and HNDs can be very practical qualifications, so they do not just involve theory.

There is also a financial advantage because due to their shorter length the tuition fees are generally lower than degree courses.

They also enable you to keep your options open as they allow you to start your degree at college, and then if you decide you like it, carry on to university.

HNCs and HNDs tend to be assessed through assignments, projects and practical tasks that you complete throughout the course.

Both HNCs and HNDs can be ‘topped up’ with extra studies at a later date in order to convert them to a full bachelor’s degree.

Some of the most popular HND courses available include accounting, business and finance, business management, civil engineering, construction, electrical engineering, graphic design, management, nursing, mechanical engineering and photography.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 17 per cent of recent HND graduates studied business studies, while nine per cent studied computer science and eight per cent electrical and electronic engineering.

Hospitality, leisure, sport, tourism and transport and general engineering were also popular choices.

Students often have many opportunities to impress potential future employers and increase their chances of getting a job.

Due to the vocational nature of an HND, you may find opportunities will arise during your time in the workplace. 

If you’re carrying out work experience alongside your studies, not only will you develop and hone the skills employers are looking for, but you’ll build contacts that could be useful in your job hunt.

HND graduates have the advantage of gaining a wealth of practical, specialised experience. 

There are also foundation degrees which area qualification in their own right but can be ‘topped up’ to a full degree.

They are great for students who are unsure if a degree is for them.

They can be a good stepping stone for people unsure of university and may suit people who want to study part-time while working.

They are equivalent to the first two years of an honours degree.

Most are created with the help of employers to ensure they are teaching the relevant skills for the local area and are normally designed with and validated by a specific university.

While the course will still involve academic study, there will also be practical work-related learning.

Students can then complete the final year of the degree at the partner university.


HNCs and HNDs are available in a wide range of subject areas, including agriculture; computing and IT; construction and civil engineering; engineering; health and social care; business and management; sport and exercise sciences; performing arts; photography; retail and distribution and hospitality management.

Most HND courses require one A-level or an equal qualification.