What are Access to Higher Education courses?
Alistair Stafford

What are Access to Higher Education courses?

Access to Higher Education FAQs

First published date November 25 2013 Amended date October 05 2015

Hoping to study at university but feel you won’t get the grades to achieve your dreams? Is there a particular course that you’re desperate to study? If you think your chances of sampling the uni lifestyle are gone due to disappointing exam results then don’t fret, as an access to higher education course can keep your career ambitions alive.

An access to higher education course is a programme designed for those who people who are looking to study at university but didn’t get the right grades during sixth form or college to make that happen. Sound good to you? Then our access to higher education FAQs will give you more information...


Is a HE course for me?

If you’re looking to go to university but haven’t got the grades to meet the entry requirements, then a higher education (HE) course is for you. The programme will help bridge that gap between A Level s (or college depending what you did) and university education, by giving you additional knowledge and further developing your skills.


Aren’t I the wrong age to be going to university?

It’s never too late to go to university and an access to higher education course is available to students of all ages. A considerable number of people who enrol on one of these programmes are often mature students who have been out of education for a long time, although many of the students do sign up straight from leaving college or sixth form.


Where can I study?

There are courses available at hundreds of further education colleges across the country, so you should be able to find a centre to suit you to study that dream subject. Be warned though, there may be instances where your nearby college doesn’t run a course in the subject you love, so you may have to venture further afield to study it. If you’re prepared to do that, then there are some programmes available that allow you to study an access to higher education course online.


Do I need any specific qualifications to enrol?

Each course has its own different entry requirements, although these tend to be quite low. Some programmes may ask you to complete a written assessment before they enrol you, while others will expect you to have a GCSE A*-C grade (or equivalent qualification) in both Maths and English.


What kind of HE course can I study?

Some of the diplomas available are focused with a particular career in mind, with programmes available in subjects such as law and nursing. While those courses give a natural progression for a subject to study at university, they don’t suit those who haven’t yet decided on their ideal job. If you’re keen to go to university but haven’t planned what to study, then taking a higher education diploma with a more generalised syllabus like social sciences or combined sciences will keep your options open.


How is the course structured?

A HE Diploma has sixty units in it, with those units split into different modules. The modules are often worth different amounts of credits; with the higher the value the more work needed to complete it. Each module has its own assessments, with students being awarded a certain amount of credits and a grade (fail, pass, merit or distinction) depending on how well they’ve done, with distinction being the highest grade. Although not on the UCAS scale, a diploma is a level three qualification, the same as taking a BTEC level 3 or A Levels.


How long does an HE course usually take?

The vast majority of HE programmes will be completed within a year if studied full time, but for those that are combining study with work and other commitments, most courses give the option of taking the access to higher education course part-time (which will obviously take longer).


If I change my mind what I want to study, can I swap courses?

If the two courses have the same number of units in them, then most centres will allow you to switch to another diploma programme and transfer the credits you’d already gained. This isn’t always the case though, so it is worth checking with the centre you’re studying at first.


What happens next?

Providing you’ve completed all of the elements of the course, you’ll be awarded an ‘Access to HE Diploma’, which means that you’ll be able to progress to university study. Although not all centres and courses enrol students with this qualification, a growing number of universities are accepting pupils with the diploma on their undergraduate programmes, with over 20,000 progressing to uni last year. With plenty of programmes available, you should have no trouble finding a university course to suit you.


Alistair Stafford

With a BA in Journalism, Alistair has a passion for writing, especially if it's got anything to do with football or other sports. In his spare time, he's big on exercise and he once completed the London Marathon.