Access To Higher Education Diploma

If you wish to embark on a higher education pathway but don’t have the relevant qualifications to do so, the Access to Higher Education Diploma is a Level 3 course that will give you the relevant preparation and a nationally-recognised qualification to do so.

It’s also a useful way to change direction into a different subject area without starting at the beginning again.

Access to Higher Education Diploma courses are available throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland (not Scotland), and can either be studied face to face at a college or online through distance learning, making them open to people who have to fit their studies around other commitments.

Your qualification is also regulated by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

What subjects is the Access to Higher Education Diploma available in?

Access to HE courses are available in over 1,200 subjects, including:

What does the Access to Higher Education Diploma involve?

As the Access to Higher Education Diploma is designed to prepare you to study at degree level, the courses are designed to give you a broad base of academic knowledge around the subject you are choosing to study, and the opportunity to learn how you might approach studying at a higher education level if it’s something you are unfamiliar with already. You will also learn techniques that will help you succeed academically at degree level.

Access to Higher Education Diploma courses are taken by students from a variety of backgrounds, and of all ages. For example, in 2020-21, 32% of applicants were from ethnic minorities, 23% were from disadvantaged areas and 25% had a disability.

This diploma is ideal for returners to education, those who want to gain additional qualifications to advance in or change their career pathway, or those who are keen on education for education’s sake.

Access to Higher Education courses are usually completed over a year of full-time study, but for those who need to work or fit them in around other commitments, you can study part-time over two years or even longer.

To give you some statistics, over the academic year 2020-2021, 43,420 people registered to study their access to higher education diploma, and 51% were over 25 years old.

As mentioned earlier, there are over 1,200 recognised Access to Higher Education Diploma courses, so you are certain to find a subject that ties in with what you want to study and which will be useful to you. All courses that are recognised by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) are listed on their database, and when you have completed one of these courses you will be awarded your Access to Higher Education Diploma.

To pass, you must achieve 60 credits to be awarded your diploma. Out of these, 45 credits must be at level 3, and graded as such. The rest are not graded, and these can be at either level 2 or level 3.

Is the Access to Higher Education Diploma right for me?

It can be difficult to ascertain from generalised pools of information whether an Access to Higher Education Diploma course is right for you. You might want to try to speak to others recent students who are in a similar position to you – age, existing qualifications, existing commitments that mean they cannot follow other conventional study paths – to get a better idea.

However, from a purely academic point of view, the diploma is designed for potential students who left education many years previously, and particularly for those who left with too little by way of demonstrable academic qualifications to enter university straight away.

Access to Higher Education courses are an excellent way not only to demonstrate potential academic aptitude for studying at degree level, but to give a foundation in the level of knowledge and the skills that you will to apply to do so.

This will not only boost your academic qualifications, but your confidence in using them.

What is the qualification equivalent to? And will universities accept it?

The Access to Higher Education Diploma is a level 3 qualification, meaning that it has similar academic demands to A Levels and to the Welsh Baccalaureate. The academic skills and demands are very similar, which should be useful in helping you make a decision.

As for universities recognising the diploma, not only is it widely recognised, many UK universities actively encourage course applications from students who have taken the Access to Higher Education Diploma, knowing that they are likely to be engaged and focused.

Over 20,000 holders of the diploma enter university courses every year, and have done since the national framework was established over 30 years ago, in 1989.

Universities are also heavily involved in developing new courses available for study on the Access to Higher Education Diploma. This ensures that the course content is appropriate in both tone and level, so students can be confident that their diploma will give them the tools they need to study at degree level.

How much does an Access to HE course cost?

Unforutnately, Access to HE Diplomas are not free, but you can find out more about course fees and what they might mean for you from the Access to HE provider you’re looking to apply to.

If you are aged 19 or over you may be expected to pay full fees, but in England you’ll be able to apply for a loan under the government's Advanced Learning Loans Scheme to cover the cost of these fees.

Loan repayments start when you earn over £25,725 per year. However, if you complete a QAA-recognised Access to HE course and then go on to complete a degree or other recognised higher education course, you won't have to repay the remaining loan for the Access to HE course.

However, it's important to be aware that you might be paying the loan back if you’re working while you study and are earning more than £25,725 per year. More information about fees and funding is available on the Access to HE website.

Where can I find an Access to HE course?

It’s easy to find an Access to HE course near you. Simply go to the Course Search on the Access to HE website allows you to search by subject and by location - so you can find a course in the best place for you.

You can also discover what course suits your preferred career through the Career Coach tool.

What are the benefits of an Access to HE course?

If you’ve been out of education for some time, or if you don’t have the traditional qualifications that a university might expect for a standard UCAS application, an Access to HE Diploma might be a good choice for you.

Access to HE Diplomas are Level 3 qualifications like an A Level and a Welsh Baccalaureate, so should carry the same weight in university applications. They offer an excellent foundation in the skills and knowledge you’ll need if you’re looking to apply to university

As well as being flexible, you can choose from a range of subjects that provide a legitimate route into hgiher education. It's also part of the UCAS Tariff, so it generates a score on par with A levels and BTEC qualifications.

According to statistics from 2020-21, 90% of graduates with an Access to HE Diploma are employed or in further study within six months after graduation.

How long does it take to complete an Access to HE Diploma?

Most Access to HE courses can be completed in one year.

However, you can also study part-time over two or more years, or through distance-learning or evening sessions to help you fit it in around family, childcare or work commitments.

How are Access to HE courses marked?

Access to HE Diplomas are made up of 60 credits. 45 of these are at Level 3 and graded.

The remaining 15 credits are not graded and may be at Level 2 or Level 3.

You must successfully achieve 60 credits to be awarded a Diploma.

Where can I find out more about Access to HE courses?

The following sites are useful resources for discovering more about this diploma: