Quest Magazine - Home

Independent resettlement & recruitment guide for serving Armed Forces & Veterans

Learning for life Making learning work for you

Learning for life Making learning work for you


18 Feb, 2019

Speaking at the World Education Conference in January 2019, the English Education Minister, Damian Hinds MP, [1] said: ‘It’s not only that a good education helps you find skilled, rewarding work. It’s that everyone should have a chance to discover the joy that comes through learning.’ Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma students know from personal experience the joy of learning and the important role it plays in their personal development.

For many Access to HE students, the Diploma has changed their lives and helped them pursue a graduate profession or to gain promotion. 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. 

Former bricklayer Richard Deacon says, ‘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 is now studying towards a PhD and has almost succeeded in his dream to become a research scientist. 

Each year, more than 35,000 adults like Richard take their first step to a graduate career by starting an Access to Higher Education Diploma, learning the specific skills they need to help them succeed on a degree. Access to HE Diplomas are available in a wide range of subjects, including engineering, business and health (including nursing). Many courses are now available online, making them accessible to more people than ever. Access to HE Diplomas are available to Service personnel and their families stationed overseas.

Education can empower. It empowers everyone, male and female, those with disabilities and the able-bodied. Education gives people the skills and the knowledge to make choices, to change direction or to maintain their path. It can also open doors, providing opportunities that were previously unavailable. It can also help us to understand ourselves better, which may help us feel happier.

‘As a teenager I was convinced that people like me couldn’t go to university’ 


Nneka Akudola (pictured) became a criminal barrister after completing an Access to HE course in legal studies. She had four GCSEs and was working long hours as a waitress for very little reward when she decided to try Access to HE. Nneka didn't have any firm career ideas when she started her studies – she just wanted a degree. She was accepted for a place to study law at Cardiff University and was accepted to the bar a year after graduating. She says, 'I definitely couldn't have taken a degree without first completing the Access to HE course.'

The Access to HE Diploma is a qualification designed specifically to prepare adults to succeed in higher education by giving them the skills, subject knowledge and confidence they need in a supportive and encouraging environment. It is equivalent to A-levels and is recognised by UK higher education providers. Every year, more than 25,000 students successfully complete an Access to HE Diploma and are accepted onto higher education courses. Around half of these students are aged 25 or older. Many left school with few qualifications.

What do people study?

There are more than 300 providers of Access to HE Diplomas, covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Diploma search on our website (see ‘Find out more’) 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. This means the Diploma continues to meet local skills needs, as it has for more than 40 years. It can also address national priorities – for instance, for many years, more than 50% of Access to HE students have gone on to become nurses, supporting a national need.

‘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, former Access to HE student

Simon Hatch

Can I afford it?

Many people worry that they won’t be able to afford university. You don’t need to pay money in advance, 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, here: Many universities also offer bursaries 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 £3,250. The government-backed scheme makes Advanced Learner Loans available to eligible students aged 19 and over. More information is available on


Repayments start the April after you complete or withdraw from your course. You pay back your loan (plus interest) when you finish your course and earn more than £25,000 a year. Your repayments will stop if your income drops below £25,000 a year. Your annual repayment amount will be 9% of any income you earn over £25,000.

Your monthly repayments would be:

·      £15 a month – if you earned £27,000 a year

·      £37 a month – if you earned £30,000 a year


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. 

You may also use Enhanced Learning Credits 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. 

Opportunities for members of the Armed Forces and their families

The launch of the Armed Forces Flexible Working Act last year, and the announcement of a new scheme to support spouses’ employment, providing vocational training, should offer more opportunities for members of the Armed Forces and their partners to invest in their education. The Act enhances serving personnel’s ability to serve part-time should their circumstances change.

Funding an access to HE Diploma

Continue your learning journey and take your route to higher success … 

  • Take the first step – think about what subject area you would like to study.
  • Look on the Access to HE website and read the real-life stories – search for Diplomas (by location, subject, provider or type of study).
  • Talk to your education advisors (find out about doing maths and English GCSEs before you start if you don’t already have them).
  • 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.)

HE Diploma Circles

Find out more 

You may find the following websites helpful.

Access to HE website:

Real-life stories:

Diploma database:

Advanced Learner Loans:

Enhanced Learning Credits: