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Independent resettlement & recruitment guide for serving Armed Forces & Veterans

It’s never too late!

It’s never too late!


15 Jun, 2018

The Princess Royal, Patron of the Institute of Learning and Work, recently said that adult education is good for people’s health, self-esteem and employability. A report by the funding body for higher education in England says graduates are more likely to feel satisfied with their life, be happier and feel more worthwhile than non-graduates. Good reasons to think about going back to education. Find out how an Access to HE qualification could help …

Adult learning plays a vital role in society, and it can make you more employable. In October 2017 BBC News[1]ran a story about the oldest undergraduates in the UK, focusing on students at a university in London who were studying Law at the ages of 65-plus. They were learning because they wanted to help the communities they lived in. They also wanted to meet new people. Insome ways their stories are similar to those of the ex-Service personnel who took part in research by Dr Mel Macer of Bath Spa University:[2]

‘When I left the Navy, I was sitting around doing nothing … I really needed to have known about Access to HE before I came out.’

ex-Navy personnel

‘Access [to HE] courses need promoting to the military as a structured provision to support the cultural shift from military to civilian life.’

Careers adviser

And lifelong learning is exactly that: lifelong. Throughout your Service career you will have learned many skills you can transfer to your new civilian life, but you might want to try something new, and it’s never too late to learn new skills and build on those you already have. 

The Access to HE Diploma has changed the lives of many peopleand helped them pursue a graduate profession or to gainpromotion. Nursing is one example of a graduate profession. There are almost 400 Access to HE courses in health-related subjects and nearly 200 specifically designed for progression to a degree in nursing. Each year around 50% of Access to HE students study diplomas in health, public services and care. 

According to labour market information from Emsi, more than 22,000 new nurses will be needed in the UK by 2022. Access to HE students can help to meet this need (source: Emsi 2017.1 data. All data sourced from Emsi UK Analyst; career information taken from Emsi occupation data).

‘The Access to HE course is nothing like school. The tutors are very supportive, and I think they recognise how life changing the Access to HE qualification can be. Life skills, experiences and personal stories are all valued on the Access to HE course, as well as the main study curriculum, which I have found very interesting and challenging.’

Simon Hatch 

Access to HE Diplomas are equivalent to A levels and are recognised by UK higher education providers. Every year, more than 25,000 students successfully complete an Access to HE Diploma and are accepted on to higher education courses. Around half of these students are aged 25 or older. Many left school with few qualifications. 

Many people worry that they won’t be able to afford university. You don’t need to pay money in advance – 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 here: Many universities also offer funds to help with the cost of going to university.

Tuition fees for Access to HE Diplomas vary. However, if you take out an Advanced Learner Loan to pay for your Access to HE studies, the fees will be around £3,350. This government-backed scheme makes Advanced Learner Loans available to eligible students aged 19 and over. More information is available at

Adult learning plays a vital role in society, and it can make you more employable

Students successfully completing a QAA-recognised Access to HE Diploma will have the balance of their Advanced Learner Loan cancelled when they complete their university studies. Advanced Learner Loan repayments currently start when you earn more than £25,000 per year, which means you may be paying back the loan while you study if you are still working.

You may also use Enhanced Learning Credits (ELC) towards the tuition fees for an Access to HE Diploma, and, if you’re eligible, you may use the publicly funded FE/HE scheme to pay for your Access to HE and university studies. It is important to look into your funding options carefully to make sure 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. 

There are more than 300 providers of Access to HE Diplomas covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Diploma search on our website lists all QAA-recognised Diplomas and providers. A number of these providers and Diplomas are also listed on the ELCAS website. 

Unlike many other qualifications, there is no national curriculum for Access to HE Diplomas, therefore the subjects studied may vary between different Access to HE providers. If you are studying a Diploma designed for progression to a degree in nursing you can expect to study subjects including human biology, psychology and the context of health (including the role of the profession in supporting the health of people, the origins of public health and an awareness of the role of government and other bodies in health professions). 

‘I wanted to get back to work but I just couldn’t face going back to the same type of office work I’d done previously. I felt a strong desire to push myself to something new, to achieve something.’

Gabrielle Holmes 

Course tutors provide a supportive, encouraging, yet challenging, environment to help adults make the transition to higher education. Students also use their life experiences to support their studies and one another, developing strong support networks to help them through the challenges of the course, and beyond.

‘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.’

Former bricklayer, Richard Deacon

Follow your dreams and get on course to higher success

  1. Take the first step …Think about what subject area you would like to study. Do you want to progress in your current career? Do you want to change direction and try something new? 
  2. Find out more …Look on the Access to HE website, read the real-life stories and search for Diplomas (by location, subject, provider or type of study).
  3. Talk to your education advisors …(find out about doing maths and English GCSEs before you start if you don’t already have them).
  4. Check your funding options …Could you get an Advanced Learner Loan? (QAA-recognised Access to HE Diplomas are eligible for Advanced Learner Loans and the balance of the loan will be cancelled when you complete your HE studies.) Could you use learning credits? Could you use the publicly funded FE/HE scheme?
  5. Contact providers to get more information …When does the course start? Where will you be taught? How much teaching time is there? How much time will you need to spend studying on your own? What support can you expect? When and how do you sign up? (Do you need to have an interview or test before you enrol?)
  6. Look at UCAS and university websites/speak to higher education admission staff …What are the entry requirements? (What qualifications do you need to get on the degree course?) Does the Access to HE Diploma you want to do meet these needs? 

College-based full- and part-time courses usually start in September; distance learning courses tend to have different start dates throughout the year; some Diplomas are available for January starts.

On the course:

  • use your existing skills and learn new ones
  • develop a new support network and make new friends
  • make your university applications (mid-November) 
  • receive your university offers (around February/March)
  • graduate from college (July)
  • start university (September).

Find out more 

You may find the following websites helpful.

Access to HE website: 

Real-life stories: 

Diploma database:

Advanced Learner Loans:



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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.