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Get ahead … get AHED

Get ahead … get AHED


15 Mar, 2018

The Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma is designed for adults and is taken by people of all ages and backgrounds – it’s a nationally recognised qualification for people who left school with few qualifications and now want to go to higher education, with many looking to transition to a new career

‘The other students were all of the same mind-set; they were there to change their career pathways. There was a good atmosphere of mutual support, and to this day I am still in contact with many of my classmates.’
Richard Deacon

Students learn the skills they need to help them in their higher-level studies as well as getting subject knowledge to prepare them for their chosen degree. Most people are nervous when they start an Access to HE course, particularly if they haven’t been in a classroom for some time. Access to HE tutors are aware of this and take it into account, so you won’t be ‘thrown in at the deep end’. The course is challenging, but the purpose of the Diploma is to help you succeed.
More than 330,000 of the mature students who gained an Access to HE Diploma have gone on to university, changed their career or moved up the career ladder, and 93% of higher education leavers with an Access to HE Diploma were in employment or further study six months after they completed the course.

Your route to higher success

While some people are very clear about what they want to do, others are unsure. And almost all don’t think they’ll be able to succeed, despite having successful careers. Think about what you’d like to do next:

  • Are you passionate about what you do now and want to progress further?
  • Do you need to demonstrate your expertise and passion through higher-level study?
  • Are you bored with your current role and want to do something completely different?
  • Do you have any hobbies or interests you’d like to pursue, and use in a new career?

Ian was a manager in a fast-food restaurant. He also coached a junior basketball team. He had always wanted to go on to further study but life somehow got in his way. It was his hobby – coaching – that helped him recognise his real passion. He left his job and enrolled on an Access to HE course. After graduating in Physical Education and Community Studies from the University of Birmingham he fulfilled his dream to become a primary school teacher.

‘Once you’ve got through the Access to HE course, you find you can achieve anything.’
Ian Webber

Once you’ve decided what subject you’d like to study, find out where you can do it. Most students need to study close to where they live or work; others can travel to a course. You can search for Access to HE courses on our database, filtering your search by postcode or study mode (for example, distance learning or evenings). If you can, speak to staff at the course provider to find out more about the course.

  • What topics will you study? (There is no national curriculum for the Diploma so there may be differences between courses in terms of what is taught – even courses with the same name.)
  • How will you be expected to study? (Online, in a classroom, a blend of online and classroom learning?)
  • What universities have their Access to HE graduates gone to?
  • What types of courses do their Access to HE graduates go on study?
  • When are the classes?
  • What help is available? (Study support, childcare, financial support …)

Once you have this information, think carefully about how you like to work.

Are you happiest working as part of a team? If so, perhaps learning that involves some classroom activity is best for you. If you prefer to work alone, online learning could be better, although nowadays most courses have some parts that are completed online.

If you’re clear about the degree you want to do, look on the university and UCAS websites to help you work out what Access to HE Diploma would prepare you best. Once you have some information about the Access to HE Diploma, speak to someone in the admissions department to check if it would be accepted. If you don’t have GCSEs you should also check to see if they would accept a functional skills qualification. You might need to get GCSEs in maths and English before you start your Access to HE studies.

But doesn’t this all come at a cost?

Many people worry that they won’t be able to afford university. But you don’t need to pay money before you start your course, and tuition and living cost loans are not like commercial loans.

If you live in England, you may also receive a childcare allowance grant that doesn’t need to be repaid. You can see if you get help for childcare using the calculator on the website. Many universities also offer funds to help with the cost of going to university.

Many Service leavers are eligible for the publicly funded FE and HE scheme. This would pay for your Access to HE Diploma and degree, as long as the Diploma is in a subject leading to a degree and is done immediately before your degree studies. Your education officer will have more information. You may prefer to use learning credits (ELC or SLC) to pay for your course. Many Access to HE providers can be found on the ELCAS website.

An average QAA-recognised Access to HE Diploma costs around £3,350 (if it is paid for with an Advanced Learner Loan). However, when you complete your university studies the balance of your Advanced Learner Loan will be cancelled. (If you’re earning while you’re studying you will need to pay back the loan but, from April 2018, the amount you can earn before payments start rises to £25,000.) For more information about Advanced Learner Loans visit the website.

It is important to look carefully at your funding options to ensure you make the best choice for you. Access to HE providers, your education officer or transition staff should be able to help you choose the best route.

Martin Lewis (founder and chair of Money Saving Expert) says don’t confuse the cost with the price tag. You might have to take out a student loan for your Access to HE Diploma, and another for your higher education course, but you might not have to repay it all. The balance of the Access to HE part of your loan will be cancelled when you complete your HE studies. (And student loans are written off 30 years after graduation.)

History of Access to HE and the role of QAA
QAA regulates the Access to HE Diploma by licensing Access Validating Agencies (AVAs) to award the Access to HE Diploma. QAA manages the Diploma specification, which governs the structure of the qualification, and the licensing criteria that detail how AVAs must manage the qualification.

The qualification was established in the 1970s and continues to be designed to increase participation in higher education by individuals who are under-represented. More than 250,000 Access to HE students have started university since 1999.

Student loan details aren’t included on credit files. This means that, unless a bank, credit card, loan or mortgage company asks, the loan isn’t included in the information on your credit reference. It’s not like a loan, it’s more like a ‘graduate contribution contract’. Because it’s paid through the income tax system, it doesn’t go on credit files and you repay only when you earn more than £25,000.

Once you’ve got your funding in place you’re ready for that new start, you’re ready to enrol. (You might be interviewed to make sure the course is right for you.)

‘If you are thinking about Access to HE, don’t let what might be stop you – let what could be drive you! The course will provide all the skills you need to engage and be who you really want to be.’
Alan Searle

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