Access To HE

Access to Higher Education (HE) Diplomas

Access to Higher Education (HE) Diplomas are designed for prospective university students who do not already have the qualifications required for entry to higher education.

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Access to HE Diplomas explained

Access to HE Diplomas are open to anyone aged 19 and over and are taught at further education (FE) colleges. They are widely recognised by UK universities as alternatives to 'traditional' qualifications for entry onto undergraduate courses.

Perhaps you left school without A Levels or an equivalent but have decided later in life that you want to go to university. Access to HE Diplomas are made for this exact circumstance.

Reasons to study

Re-entering education after any period away can be a daunting prospect. Should you decide to take this bold step, Access to HE Diplomas are an ideal route back into education for several reasons:

1. The courses are flexible

Most Access to HE Diploma students are older than the average undergraduate student. Often, they will have other commitments aside from their studies, such as a job or family.

The diplomas can be studied in a variety of ways. You can complete the course through full time study in one year, study part-time and take two or more years or take a fast-track course of just two-terms.

There are also options for distance learning, weekend or evening classes and work-based courses. This means that you can study your diploma without having to change your day-to-day life too much.

2. There are a range of subjects

Subject Choices Access To HE
Access to HE Diplomas are available in a
range of subject areas

Diplomas have as much variety of choice as other, pre-university qualifications. At any one time, there are around 1,110 diplomas being taught around the UK.

You can choose a specific subject such as Law, Business Studies or History or a broader subject area such as Social Sciences.

3. They are legitimate routes into university

Access to HE Diplomas are not seen as inferior qualifications to A Levels, BTECs or International Baccalaureates (IB).

Universities are involved in the creation and updating of Access to HE courses, and many universities actively encourage applications from diploma holders.

Additionally, courses are approved by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA).

Every year, 20,000 students with diplomas get a place at a UK university – it is a qualification recognised for producing students ready for the rigours of university life.

4. Financial support is available

Access to HE Diploma fees can be quite expensive. Depending on where, what and how you are studying your course, the cost can be over £3,000.

You should not let this put you off as there are plenty of funding options to help you with the cost of the course.

If you are over 19 you can apply for the Advanced Learner Loan. There are also various other scholarships and bursaries available depending on your personal circumstances and the college you are studying at. 

When choosing a diploma course, be sure to check what financial support is available at any college you are considering.

Where are Access to HE Diplomas taught?

Access to HE Diplomas are offered at FE colleges in every region of England and Wales.

There is also one Access to HE course taught at an FE college in Northern Ireland. Additionally, individual universities in Northern Ireland run access courses for entry onto its undergraduate courses.

Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP)

Access to HE Diplomas are not run in Scotland, but there are very similar courses available called Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP).

SWAP is a partnership between Scottish colleges and universities. The programme has the same intention as Access to HE Diplomas – to help people who have been out of education get onto university courses.

SWAPs are all full-time (around 18-20 hours per week), one-year long courses for adults who have been out of education for at least three years and have no qualification above SCQF level 5 (National 5/SVQ 2).

SWAP courses are currently available at 18 colleges all over Scotland, including the largest cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

All SWAP courses are free to study and, in most cases, you will be eligible for a college bursary to help with living costs.

In addition to SWAP courses, many Scottish universities also run their own access programmes. To learn more about what is available and if you are eligible you should check individual university websites.

Learn more

To learn more about Access to HE Diplomas in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, go to the Access to Higher Education website.

To find out more about Scottish Wider Access Programme, visit the SWAP website.