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Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas

If you want to go on to higher education and gain a recognised qualification to do a specific job, a BTEC, HNC or HND could be for you. HNCs and HNDs focus on 'learning by doing' and can lead into a new career, or help you in your current line of work.

HNCs and HNDs: what are they?

Higher National Certificates which are known by their abbreviation HNC and and Higher National Diplomas - known as HND - are work-related, or vocational, higher education qualifications.

While bachelor's degrees tend to focus on gaining knowledge, HNCs and HNDs are designed to give you the skills to put that knowledge to good use in a particular job. They are highly valued by employers and can also count towards membership of professional bodies and other employer organisations.

Both qualifications are provided by further and higher education colleges with HNCs taking about one year to complete full-time and two years part-time or in other situations like distance learning. HNDs take two years full-time and can also be taken part-time, which takes longer.

On the National Qualifications Framework, both qualifications are at level 5. The National Qualifications Framework shows how different types of qualifications compare in terms of the demands they place on learners.

Subjects available

HNCs and HNDs are available in a wide range of subject areas, including:

  • agriculture
  • computing and IT
  • construction and civil engineering
  • engineering
  • health and social care
  • business and management
  • sport and exercise sciences
  • performing arts
  • retail and distribution
  • hospitality management

Who can take them?

To study for an HNC or HND, you will need some previous qualifications. Most HND courses require one A level or an equivalent qualification.

Search for courses

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website will help you to locate a course.

How are you assessed?

Generally speaking, HNCs and HNDs assessed through assignments, projects and practical tasks that you complete throughout the course.


If you successfully complete an HNC or HND, the grades in each subject unit are shown as:

  • pass
  • merit
  • distinction


If you are not happy with how you did in a particular project or practical task, there are opportunities to improve your performance, so speak to your teacher or tutor.


If you are still not happy with the mark or grade you got, there are appeals procedures you can follow. So speak to your teacher or tutor for more advice.

Where can they take you?

Because HNCs and HNDs are designed to give you the skills for a particular field of work, they can lead straight to a career. You can also use the qualifications to progress within your current career like a stepping stone to gaining professional status, for example.

You can also convert your HNC or HND to a bachelor's degree with extra study. Once you complete your course, HNCs can allow entry into the second year of a degree, while HNDs can allow entry into the second or third year.

Other qualifications

Diploma of Higher Education

Diplomas of Higher Education are similar to HNDs. They are accredited professional qualifications and are highly respected by employers both in the UK and overseas. They usually take two years to complete and offer subjects such as accounting, construction, engineering, nursing, science, technology and textile design.

You can normally convert your Higher Education Diploma to a degree with an extra year of study. The diplomas are at 'intermediate' level on the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications.

Certificate of Higher Education

Certificates of Higher Education are academic, rather than vocational qualifications. There are broadly equivalent to an HNC, and usually take a year of full-time study to complete. They are at 'certificate' level on the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications.

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