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What is a foundation degree?

Foundation degrees are one way of combining academic study with work-based learning. They are often taken by people in jobs who want to improve their skills, but you can also study them full-time when you leave school or college.

In this article we ask:

  • What is a foundation degree?
  • What will I do on a foundation degree?
  • Where can they lead?
  • What careers are they good for?
  • What qualifications do I need?
  • How much do they cost?
  • How do I apply?
  • What are the alternatives?

‘What are foundation degrees? Find out how to combine work-based learning with academic study in this article’

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First, check out this video from Kent & Medway Progression Foundation for a pretty good explanation of what a foundation degree is:

What is a foundation degree?

A foundation degree is a qualification which combines work-based learning with academic study. It is equivalent to the first two years of a traditional undergraduate (bachelor’s) degree. It is a level 5 qualification, making it equivalent to a diploma of higher education (DipHE). It will give you specific and higher-level expertise in a professional or technical job.

Foundation degrees are often tailored to the needs of the local jobs market. This means that a particular employer and university may have collaborated to design the course, making it specific to your area and potentially unique. In this case, you would stand a good chance of quickly finding local work when you finished the qualification.

Many people study foundation degrees part time while in work to help them get better at their job and progress in their career.

What will I do on a foundation degree?

Students in lecture theatre
You will combine academic study with on-the-job learning

That depends.

Some people choose to begin a foundation degree as a two-year full-time qualification when they leave school or college. If you choose this option, you will be based in a further-education college or university but also spend some time in the workplace of a local employer. This route is intended to prepare you for a particular job or line of work.

Many people choose to do a part-time foundation degree related to their job while they are already in work. In this case, the course could work in two ways depending on what your employer allows. Either you would spend a day per week studying at college (day release) or a chunk of time on your studies (block release).

If you are planning to study part time while in work, bear in mind that balancing your workload may be challenging. Unless you are willing to set aside a fair amount of your spare time for study, a foundation degree may not be the best choice.

Where can they lead?

Foundation degrees can take you in a number of directions.

If you are in work, a foundation degree can help you progress by giving you the skills to apply for a higher-up, more skilled or more advanced position.

A foundation degree is also a good choice if you are curious about university education but not sure a three-year bachelor’s degree is for you. It is usually quite easy to go on to study for a full degree once you have completed your qualification and this is what nearly half (45%) of full-time foundation degree students choose to do.

What careers are they good for?

According to the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU), the most popular job that foundation degree students go into is teaching assistant, followed by nursery nurse and nursery assistant. Other popular routes include teacher, paramedic and police officer.

What qualifications do I need?

If you are under 21 and looking to apply for a full-time course, you will generally need to have one or two A-levels, or another level 3 qualification such as a BTEC National diploma, in a related subject to study for a foundation degree. However, universities are usually quite flexible about the entry requirements.

If you are in work, the entry requirements can be even more flexible and you are often not required to have any at all, provided you have a proven track record of dedication and capability within your job.

You can undertake a foundation degree even if you already have an undergraduate degree or master’s. If it will help you improve at your job, there is no reason you shouldn’t undertake a foundation degree to help you progress at work.

How much do they cost?

In work, your employer may pay some or all of the costs of your foundation degree. If you are self-funding, you can expect to pay much less than for a standard bachelor’s degree and the fees vary depending on the institution you’re applying to. You are entitled to apply for loans in just the same way as students studying for a full degree.

Young woman in lab
You will gain specialist skills so you can get better at your job

How do I apply?

You can generally apply through the UCAS website.

Alternatively, some foundation degrees are advertised through employer websites. If you have a particular employer in mind, you should check their website for information and application forms.

What are the alternatives?

Well, that depends on what you want to do. If you are more interested in academic study, a full bachelor’s degree may be a better option.

However, if you are committed to work-based learning, you could consider an advanced, higher or degree apprenticeship instead. The last two of these also give you the chance to earn a full degree while working, with the employer paying your tuition fees for you. With a degree apprenticeship, you could even gain a master’s degree.

To learn more about different kinds of qualifications you can study when you leave school or college, visit our university section or apprenticeships pages.

Image credits

Lead image via US Government, Students in class via Wikimedia Commons