What is a foundation degree?

by Dan Roberts

Chances are that you haven’t heard of a foundation degree, but this study path is popular with students who are focused on a particular profession and who enjoy work-based learning.

A foundation degree is a qualification that combines academic learning with vocational skills. With various options for when and where you can study, the flexibility of foundation degrees makes them an attractive choice. Not to be confused with a foundation year, which is a springboard into a bachelor’s degree, a foundation degree (Fd) is a stand-alone qualification offered by awarding universities and colleges or by employers providing courses validated by them.

Foundation degree courses are not usually taught on the university’s campus but rather at further education colleges or the premises of private training providers. However, the Fd qualification is usually awarded by the university.



What level is a foundation degree equivalent to?

At 240 credits, a foundation degree is equivalent to two-thirds of a bachelor’s degree (360 credits). While a master’s degree is level 7 and a bachelor’s degree is level 6, a foundation degree is level 5 of the UK’s Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF). This makes it the academic equivalent of a Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE), a Higher National Diploma (HND) or a level 5 National Vocational Qualification (NVQ).

How long is a foundation degree?

A full-time course will typically take two years to complete, while part-time study and distance learning can take up to four years.

This depends on how you choose to study: full-time, part-time or by distance learning. A full-time course will typically take two years to complete, while part-time study and distance learning can take up to four years. Part-time Fd courses are ideal for students who are already working and want to progress in their career, while full-time courses are designed for those looking to get started in a particular profession.

Subjects you can study

There is a wide choice of courses available at foundation degree level. Popular Fd subjects include:

  • Health and social care
  • Business studies
  • Early years education
  • Art and design
  • Construction management
  • Engineering
  • Hospitality management
  • Tourism & leisure
  • Logistics
  • Retail management
  • Nursing
  • Veterinary care
  • Computing
  • Public services
  • Sport science




Why should I choose a foundation degree?

There are a number of reasons why selecting a foundation degree can make sense:

1. Shorter than a full degree

If you are unsure about committing to three years of study, an Fd course is a shorter option – or you can study part-time while working to acquire professional skills that will help you progress in your career.

2. Directly relevant to the workplace

If you’re someone who enjoys hands-on learning, the content and format of a foundation degree may suit you better than those of a bachelor’s degree. With Fd courses being designed in partnership with employers, they deliver skills that are in demand in your chosen profession. Your course may include practical learning through work placements or modules that feature real-world applications. Many students ultimately find employment with the organisation where they do their work placement.

If you’re someone who enjoys hands-on learning, the content and format of a foundation degree may suit you better than those of a bachelor’s degree

3. Fits to your lifestyle

The flexible study options available with most foundation degree courses mean that people can fit their study around their work schedules or other commitments, such as caring for dependants. Fd courses vary in terms of content, delivery and assessment, so check each provider’s offer carefully to decide which course would suit you best. You might do much of your learning in your workplace, with blocks of time spent at university or course modules completed by distance learning. Alternatively, you might study part-time during the day or evenings, or you might get day release from work.

4. Can be ‘topped up’ to a full degree

Foundation degrees have to include a clear pathway to progress to an honours degree, if desired. Foundation degree graduates can either join the third year of a standard degree course or possibly complete a specific top-up course. Students wanting to top up in a different but related subject may have to join the second year rather than the third year. You can top up in the year immediately following your graduation, or at a later date.

Foundation degree graduates can either join the third year of a standard degree course or possibly complete a specific top-up course

Entry requirements

A foundation degree is an attractive option for students who don’t have the entry requirements for a standard degree. Students under the age of 21 who don’t have much work experience will generally be required to have one or two A Levels or the equivalent in vocational qualifications. For those over 21, however, evidence of relevant work experience and skills may be sufficient, provided you can demonstrate that you will be able to cope with studying at degree level. Check out the websites of potential course providers to find their precise entry requirements.

How to apply for a foundation degree

You can find all the options for foundation degree courses via the UCAS website. For full-time courses, you’ll need to apply through UCAS to the uni or college offering the course. For a part-time Fd, you should apply directly to the institution providing the course. However, for some work-based programmes and for higher apprenticeships leading to a foundation degree, you make your application through the employer’s website.

Fees and funding

Fees can be lower for foundation degrees offered at colleges affiliated to a university and for part-time courses.

The fees payable for a foundation degree vary from course to course but will typically be around two-thirds of the cost of a standard three-year degree. Tuition fees for international students will be considerably more, often two to three times as much. Fees can be lower for foundation degrees offered at colleges affiliated to a university and for part-time courses. Students on Fd courses offered by recognised UK providers are eligible for tuition fee and maintenance loans, according to which part of the UK they live in.

Certain students – such as those who are disabled, a parent or a carer – can apply for extra financial help in the form of grants and may also be entitled to additional bursaries from their university. Be aware that funding entitlement varies between full-time and part-time study but if you are working, your employer might be able to help you financially too. You may need to state your case as to why a foundation degree would benefit your skills, career development and your ability to contribute to the success of the company.




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Written by Dan Roberts
MD and Founder of Mystudenthalls.com

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