Foundation degrees

Foundation degrees are higher education qualifications, mainly taught in Further Education (FE) colleges. They mix academic and work related learning and offer a clear route to university or into employment.

Foundation degrees explained

A Foundation degree will give you the technical skills and academic knowledge needed to progress in the workplace whilst gaining a higher education qualification such as a Foundation degree in Art (FdA), a Foundation degree in Engineering (FdEng), or a Foundation degree in Science (FdSc).

Employers, universities and FE colleges work together to develop Foundation degrees so that you gain the specific skills that employers need, making you more employable.

Benefits of doing a Foundation degree

Foundation degrees can help you improve your skills and  better your career prospects. They have many benefits whether you’re already working or looking for a job.  A Foundation degree may suit you if you:

  • are working and want to improve your skills and prospects in your current job, through part-time higher level study
  • have left school and want a higher education qualification that's relevant to your job aspirations
  • want to reskill in a new occupation or profession, or wish to return to work after a break

​Flexible study closer to home

Foundation degrees are taught in local FE colleges and can be studied full-time over two years or on a part-time basis, offering students with work or family commitments more flexibility. Studying closer to home also means reduced travel time and costs.

Smaller classes

Foundation degree courses often have smaller class sizes and more one-to-one contact with tutors than bachelor's degrees.

Wide range of subjects

Foundation degrees are available in a wide range of subjects.  Check the Foundation degree courses that are currently available.

Practical learning

All Foundation degrees  have a work-based learning element, allowing you to put your learning into practice.  Learning in the workplace is an important part of a Foundation degree course.  You will gain technical skills, academic knowledge and other important, transferable skills that employers are increasingly looking for, such as communication and team working skills.

Once you're enrolled on a Foundation degree, you can speak to your course tutors about the work-based learning element you will do.

Better job prospects

Foundation degrees can help you to improve your skills which could help to better your career prospects.  Foundation degrees are intermediate higher education qualifications, the level at which the Northern Ireland skills gap is greatest.  Studying a Foundation degree is therefore likely to improve your employment prospects.

Where you can study a Foundation degree

Foundation degrees are offered in all six FE colleges and the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).  Foundation degrees can also be studied through the Open University.

Contact the relevant college for more information about the application process for your chosen Foundation degree course.

Cost of studying a Foundation degree

Foundation degrees are a very cost effective way of gaining a higher education qualification.  Tuition fees for Foundation degrees are lower than fees for bachelor’s degrees.  Studying higher education in your local college closer to home can also save accommodation and travel costs.


Tuition fees for full-time Foundation degrees are about £2,600 per academic year, much less than bachelor’s degrees.   Tuition fees for part-time Foundation degrees are lower than full-time courses and vary in cost. Your local FE college can tell you more about fees for part-time courses and other financial support that might be available to you.

Student support

As a Foundation degree student, you can get the same financial student support as other higher education students, such as:

​For more information on the financial support available, see Student Finance.

 If you're already employed

If you’ve got a job and are looking to upskill through a Foundation degree, ask your employer if they can support you, by giving you time off work to study or financial support.

The skills and knowledge you’ll gain by completing a Foundation degree will not only help your career prospects, they could also help build your employer’s business.

Information on how employers can get involved with Foundation degrees and the potential benefits to their business can be found at Foundation degrees – employers.

Qualifications needed

Entry requirements for a Foundation degree will depend on the course and the college. They will normally be stated in terms of A levels or vocational equivalents such as BTEC National Diplomas.

If you don’t have qualifications but can show you have relevant experience, skills and aptitudes, you may be able to study a Foundation degree through a process known as Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL).  Contact your local FE college to find out more about Foundation degree entry through APEL.

Student experiences

Some Foundation degree students talk about their experiences of studying for the qualification and how it has helped their careers:

Find out more

For further information about Foundation degrees, contact your local FE college.

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