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Independent resettlement & recruitment guide for serving Armed Forces & Veterans

Power up your HE options

Power up your HE options


01 Dec, 2019

Throughout your Service career you will have been continually focusing on reskilling and upskilling, but you might need higher-level qualifications or want to try something new and change direction when you make the transition from Service life. The Access to HE Diploma could be just what you need …

Across Britain, about 30% of people have a degree. Labour market information tells us that some of the top five skills desired by employers at the end of 2019 were auditing, accounting, business development and agile software development, to address the growth in professional, scientific and technical activity industries. Many of these skills are required at degree level.

‘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

What is an Access to HE Diploma?

The Access to Higher Education Diploma is a qualification that prepares students for study at degree level. It has been designed to give you relevant academic subject knowledge, and the opportunity to learn how to approach study at university level and develop techniques to help you succeed.

There is no such thing as a typical Access to HE student. Access to HE Diplomas are taken by students of all ages and backgrounds. Access to HE courses are usually completed in one year, however you can also study part-time over two or more years.

In order to use the title ‘Access to HE’, a course must be recognised by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). There are more than 1,200 recognised Access to HE courses. All recognised courses are listed on the database of QAA-recognised Access to HE courses.

A student who successfully completes all course requirements is awarded the Access to HE Diploma. The ‘Access to HE Diploma’ is a reserved title and can be awarded only to students on courses that have been approved through the QAA’s Recognition Scheme.

Access to HE Diplomas are made up of 60 credits; 45 of these are at level 3 and graded. The remaining 15 credits are not graded and may be at level 2 or level 3. You must successfully achieve 60 credits to be awarded a Diploma.

Who registered to study an Access to HE Diploma in 2017–18?

More than 37,000 people registered to study for an Access to HE Diploma in 2017–18. Of these, 73% were female, 46% over 25 years old and 28% from an ethnic minority background.

Who registered to study an Access to HE Diploma in 2017–18

Is it right for me?

Courses are designed for people who have been out of education for some time, especially those who left school with too few qualifications to be able to go straight to university. Access to HE courses provide a good foundation in the knowledge and skills required for studying at university level, so that students are confident and well prepared when they go on to higher education.

‘It’s not just about getting the grades that I need to get qualified, but it’s how it’s taught me to believe in myself and that I have a right to be in the education system, the same as anyone else.’

Tommy Sharpe

How does the Access to HE Diploma relate to other qualifications?

The Access to HE Diploma is a full level 3 qualification. Study on the Access to HE Diploma makes academic demands that are at an equivalent level to those of other level 3 qualifications. Examples of other level 3 qualifications include A-levels and the Welsh Baccalaureate. This comparison relates to the level of the qualification: there is no standard measure of ‘equivalence’ that relates to the volume of the qualification.

Do universities recognise the Access to HE Diploma?

The Access to HE Diploma is widely recognised by UK universities, and many actively encourage applications from Access to HE students.

A national framework for Access to HE courses has been in place since 1989 and, each year, more than 20,000 Access to HE students achieve the Access to HE Diploma and progress to university courses across the UK.

Universities are involved in the development of new Access to HE courses to make sure that course content is appropriate, and the framework for the approval of Access to HE courses is managed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. QAA’s Access to HE logo appears on all Access to HE Diplomas, so that universities can be confident that a student has completed the requirements of an approved Access to HE Diploma.

A total of 23,000 Access to HE students went to university and continued their route to a graduate career. More than 90% of graduates who started university with an Access to HE Diploma will be in employment or further study six months after leaving university.

‘I think it’s fair to say that doing the Access course has completely transformed my life. If you don’t put yourself out there you don’t know what you can achieve.’

Esther Silva


The fees set by colleges vary. Costs may also change from year to year. It’s important to think carefully about your finances and make sure you research costs before you enrol on an Access to HE course. As well as the course fees, you should think about implications for your own living costs, perhaps including childcare and travel, and any course-related costs such as books and equipment. If you are claiming job-related benefits, you should also seek further advice.

It is essential to contact the Access to HE course provider for information about their charges and how these will apply to you. They will also be able to direct you to sources of more information about the implications for your own individual position, including information about study hours, which you may need to consider if you are intending to continue working while you study.

Course fees and loans

Access to HE courses delivered by colleges in England and approved for public funding are co-funded by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

As a member of the Armed Services, you may also be able to use Enhanced Learning Credits towards the tuition fees for an Access to HE Diploma under the ELCAS scheme. Some Service leavers may also be able to use the Publicly Funded Further/Higher Education Scheme to pay for an Access to HE Diploma, which is immediately followed by a degree or other higher education course. Service education officers or transition staff should be able to help you choose the best route.

Take advice from CTP about transition – everyone you speak to throughout your transition is a good resource, so make use of them, whether that’s for support, encouragement, information, referrals or experience.

If you are aged 19 or over you may be expected to pay full fees, but in England you will be able to apply for a loan under the government’s Advanced Learner Loans scheme to cover the cost of these fees. Loan repayments start when you earn more than £25,725 per year. However, if you complete a QAA-recognised Access to HE course and then go on to complete a degree or other recognised higher education course, you won’t have to repay the remaining loan for the Access to HE course. However, you may be paying the loan back while you study if you are still working and you earn more than £25,725 per year.

There is more information on Advanced Learner Loans and repayment arrangements on the government website.

‘So, what would I say to anybody thinking of going down the Access to HE route? Just do it, you’ve got nothing to lose! 

‘Every day, I see how the power of education can transform lives – people of all ages and backgrounds who’ve had different life experiences. And I’m one of them – someone who left school with virtually no qualifications to becoming vice chancellor of a university. You can change your life too. Just dive in and embrace education, and the rewards will come thick and fast.’

Nick Petford, Vice Chancellor, University of Northampton

Ready to find out more?

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