Higher education at 18+

Higher Education in a Further Education College (FE)

What is Higher Education in a Further Education College?

Higher Education (HE) is not just about moving away from home, and going to university, you can also do a Higher Education (HE) course in a Further Education College (FE).  

This option might really suit some students for example, those who might want to stay closer to home, because it might be cheaper or because they have family or personal commitments. Some might prefer to study in a smaller environment and be particularly interested in a shorter course related to a vocational area (with an option to top up to a full Honours Degree later). If that sounds of interest to you then there are lots of HE level courses in FE colleges.

What are the benefits?

FE colleges tend to offer HE qualifications which relate directly to certain jobs or industries and often include practical work experience as part of the course. This can mean a better chance of employment because alongside getting a qualification you will also get work skills relevant to a specific industry.

Colleges usually offer HE courses such as Foundation Degrees and Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and Certificates (HNCs), which are usually two years full time but but with the option to do an extra year to achieve a full Honours Degree.

HE courses in FE colleges often have smaller class sizes meaning more tutor and study support. A lot of these courses can be taken on a ‘part-time’ basis meaning they can fit around any existing commitments like part-time work, child care, etc. HE courses in FE colleges tend to have lower fees too; where universities charge up to £9250 per year, many Foundation Degree courses at FE colleges cost from £6000.

What types of HE courses are offered in FE colleges?

Foundation degrees

A Foundation Degree is a degree level qualification combining academic study with work-place learning. Designed with employers, they aim to equip people with the skills, knowledge and understanding to achieve academic results as well as improved performance and productivity in the work place. Foundation Degrees are aimed at particular jobs or professions and intended to provide professional skills for people currently working in these industries or for those hoping to enter.

A Foundation Degree is the equivalent of two thirds of a full Honours Degree and are often offered as full- or part-time. There are no set entry requirements for Foundation Degrees: for learners who have just completed a Level 3 qualification, UCAS points might be required. To ‘top-up’ a Foundation Degree to a full Honours Degree requires a further year of study at the college or partner university. See UCAS for more information. An example of a Foundation Degree offered at University Centre Somerset is Mechanical Engineering.


Higher National Diplomas and Higher National Certificates are work-related courses provided by a number of FE colleges. Generally speaking a HND is the equivalent to two years at university but can often be studied part time over four years. HNCs and HNDs focus on 'learning by doing' and develop skills that you can use in a particular job. Most students who undertake these courses are already employed in the industry and the qualification helps them to further their career or update their knowledge. They are highly valued by employers and can also count towards membership of professional bodies. Entry requirements for a HNC/D vary and relevant professional or technical experience is often taken into account. Progression from an HNC/D can include further study at university which can lead to an Honours Degree, or entry to and progression within a related industry.

An example of a HND is Business at Bath College.  

Honours degrees

Many colleges offering HE courses work in partnership with universities local to them. This means you may be able to study a full Honours Degree at your local college but be awarded the qualification by a university. Universities work closely with colleges offering their degree programmes to make sure the quality of teaching is up to their standards and you often have access to the University’s resources such as online support or library services.

An example of an Honours degree offered at City of Bristol College is Health and Social Care Management (in partnership with Plymouth University):

How to find out more and how to apply

If you want to find out more about what is offered near you, visit your local college’s website. Alternatively, all full time HE courses, whether taught at FE colleges or universities, can be found on the UCAS website. The UCAS website will give details of all entry requirements and course content. To apply to a local college’s HE programme for a full time course, you will have to submit an application through UCAS. As a HE learner you will be eligible to apply for student finance too through Student Finance England.

Some part time courses might require you to apply directly to the college.