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Higher Education Explained

Entering higher education can be a step in the right direction for those seeking further opportunities for employment or career progression, demonstrating a invested interest in professional and personal development. Higher education consists of more than a standard three year undergraducate degree, with opportunities to study for shorter periods of time while still receiving a qualification promoting advancement.

Our department has dedicated this page to breaking down the different kinds of higher education qualifications offered by EKC Group, entry requirements for our programmes, and explaining, what can be confusing, terminology to ease the decision-making process if you are considering applying to a higher education course.

Entry Requirements


What are the entry requirements and what do I need to apply to a higher education programme?


Entry requirements will vary by course and a broad range of qualifications will be considered in offering you a place on one of our programmes.

Most entry requirements to go onto further study in higher education will require you to have a level 3 qualification, and/or BTECs, together with relevant GCSEs unless you are entering as a mature student. Level 3 qualifications include any, or a combination, of the following:


  • A levels
  • Access to higher education diploma
  • Advanced apprenticeship
  • International Baccalaureate diploma
  • Level 3 award
  • Level 3 national certificate/certificate (i.e., BTEC certificate)
  • Level 3 national diploma/diploma (i.e., BTEC diploma or BTEC extended diploma)


The next stage after level 3 study is to progress onto level 4, 5, or 6 study which will result in achieving one of the following qualifications: a higher national certificate, a higher national diploma or an undergraduate degree.


What is a mature student, and do they have different entry requirements?


If you are a mature student, programmes may assess separately, or in conjunction with other qualifications, your previous work experience, training, and professional qualifications related to your job.

A mature student in the UK is classified as anyone who at the start of their studies is over 21 years of age.


Where can I find more about entry requirements related to the course I am interested in?


Entry requirements can be found for our programmes on the EKC Group website by clicking on the individual college pages (Ashford, Broadstairs, & Canterbury). HE courses can be found for Ashford and Canterbury by following the ‘Adults’ tab at the top of the college landing page and choosing Higher Education from the drop-down menu.

For Broadstairs, click on the college page and then the ‘Pathways’ tab at the top of the college landing page. Scroll down to Computing and at the bottom of the page you will find HE courses under ‘Courses at Broadstairs College’.

Entry requirements can also be found on UCAS listed under offerings for EKC Group (East Kent College) or the University of Kent. Please see below for more information on where to find course information on UCAS.

If you have any concerns or question about how your prior qualifications or experience will be assessed when applying to one of our HE programmes, applicants are welcome to email our team at to express their interest and for further guidance.


What are the different levels of study?


Level (4, 5, 6 etc.) Study


In England, Wales and Northern Ireland there are nine qualification levels starting from entry level (i.e., entry level certificates, Skills for Life) and ending with Level 8 study (a PhD or doctorate degree).

Our higher education department at EKC Group offers Level 4 (HNC), 5 (HND), and 6 (BA (Hons) or BSc (Hons) top-up) qualifications.


What is a Level 4 qualification?


Level 4 qualifications offered through our Higher Education department refer to HNC courses.

What is an HNC?


HNC (Higher National Certificate)


A Higher National Certificate (HNC) is a Level 4 qualification equivalent to one year of study at a traditional university. On an HNC programme you will build sufficient knowledge in your chosen subject area, either taking your skills after into work or progressing onto Level 5 study to obtain a Higher National Diploma (HND).

An HNC is taught over one year for full-time students, or over two years for part-time students.


We offer Higher National Certificates in:


What is a Level 5 qualification?


Level 5 qualifications offered through our Higher Education department refer to HND courses.


What is an HND?


HND (Higher National Diploma)

A Higher National Diplomas (HND) is a Level 5 qualification that focusses on practical experience in your chosen field combined with pragmatic opportunities to increase your knowledge in a sector or subject area. An HND is suitable for students who wish to enter work, and some may even have their tuition fees paid in full by an employer. An HND provides specific skills for entering employment after graduation and is the equivalent of two years at a traditional university.

An HND is an excellent way to learn more about your area of interest, remain engaged in study and realise your potential, if you wish and the option is available, to continue on to a top-up year offered in partnership with the University of Kent to achieve a full honours degree.


We offer full-time Higher National Diplomas in:


What is Level 6 study?


Level 6 qualifications offered through our Higher Education department refer to a degree with honours achieved from enrolling on the top-up programme after completion of an HND.


What is a Top-Up?


After completing an HND programme you have the option to continue on to the relevant top-up programme for what would be considered the equivalent of your third year of traditional university study. In this sense, you are “topping-up” your HND to be awarded a BA (Hons) or BSc (Hons) degree.


If you progress from an HNC, to an HND, and then on to a top-up BA (Hons) or BSc (Hons) degree you have the opportunity at every stage of study to re-assess whether continuation of your studies is the right option for you, without any detriment to the previous qualifications you’ve achieved. As long as the top-up continues to be offered, if you choose to go into work or have other commitments that require your attention for a period of time, you can always apply in the future to enroll on a top-up programme to earn your full honours degree.


What is a degree with honours? What is the difference between a BA (Hons) and a BSc (Hons)?


BA/BSc Top - Up (Bachelor’s Degree)


A Bachelors (BA/BSc) degree is a traditional undergraduate degree offered by a formal university. A BA degree is a Bachelor of Arts degree and a BSc is a Bachelor of Science degree. A degree with honours indicates that a higher standard of academic study has been engaged in by the student than if you were to receive a degree without honours.


Our Bachelors top-up degrees are offered in partnership with the University of Kent. This means your degree will be issued from the University of Kent as a student enrolled on a franchised, validated or validated-plus programme (see below for more information on the difference between these offerings).


We offer bachelor’s degree top-ups (BA/BSc) in the following programmes:


As an example, you would need to have been awarded an HND on the following programmes to make an application to continue on to the top-up BA (Hons) or BSc (Hons) degree programme:



We, of course, will also consider applications from students with HND qualifications who would like to apply to the top-up year of study for a full degree with honours if they have achieved their HND or Foundation degree on a course offered at another institution.


Awarding Bodies


University of Kent


The University of Kent is a leading academic institution with a gold TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) award. Distinctly regarded as the UK’s European university, the University of Kent has a diverse student population that extends to the courses offered in partnership with the University at Ashford and Canterbury College.


If you are enrolled on a top-up degree programme , you will be awarded a final degree (BA (Hons) or BSc (Hons)) from the University of Kent.  We also offer HND programmes validated by the University of Kent equivalent to the first two years of full-time study at the University and a part-time HNC Construction programme equivalent to the first year of an undergraduate degree.


What is the difference between being a franchised, validated, or validated plus student?




Franchised students register with both the College and the University of Kent. As a franchised student you have access to all the services of the University (except accommodation). You will receive a Kent ID number, KentOne student ID card and IT account to access resources such as the University’s online library collections as well as their physical libraries in Canterbury and Medway. You have access as a franchised student to SLAS (Student Learning Advisory Service), the Careers and Employability Service, Student Support and Well-being and Kent Union societies, activities and advice centre.


The following programmes are franchised:




A validated course means that the University is responsible for the academic level and quality of your course, which is taught in the college by college lecturers. The college is responsible for ensuring that you have access to the teaching and learning resources you need to complete your course successfully.

Validated students register with both the College and the University of Kent. You will receive a Kent ID number.


Validated courses offered by the University of Kent include:


Validated Plus


Validated plus students are registered on programmes validated by the University of Kent but taught in the college.  Students have access to all the resources of the college and some University resources including the physical library on both the Canterbury and Medway campuses, the student learning advisory service and the Careers and Employability Services.  You will be required to register with both the College and the University and will receive a Kent ID number and a Kent Associate Student card.

Validated plus courses offered by the University of Kent include:




Pearson’s purpose is to help individuals progress in their lives through learning. Pearson offers world-class educational content and assessment that seeks to enable more effective teaching and personalized learning at scale. Pearson qualifications equip learners with desired skills to enhance their employability prospects and succeed in their chosen careers.

Pearson qualifications offered at EKC Group include:


How do I apply?


Applications for our programmes can be made through our Enterprise system or through UCAS, depending on the type of programme.

To apply for our part time programmes:


Please use Enterprise to make a formal application. You can do this by clicking the 'Apply' button at the bottom of the course page following the link above.


To apply for our full time programmes:


Please use UCAS to make a formal application. The course codes can be found on the relevant course programme pages on the EKC website. Alternatively, you can also search for these programmes on UCAS. The BSc (Hons) Animal Biology and Wildlife Conservation and BSc (Hons) Applied Animal Science programmes are listed as undergraduate courses provided through the University of Kent, whereas all other courses above can be found listed under EKC Group.