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Foundation degree meaning in the UK

If you seek a higher education qualification that combines work-based experience and academic study, obtaining a foundation degree is exactly what you need. It’s a great option for people who either aren’t ready to commit to a full three-year Bachelor’s degree programme or who already have a job but want to improve their skills without losing it.
If obtaining a foundation degree sounds like a perfect solution for you and you want to learn more, our article is for you. We have prepared a comprehensive guide on the Foundation degree which explains foundation degree meaning and what qualifications it is equivalent to, what career prospects it can open to its holder, and what one needs to kickstart their studies.

Admission Requirements

So what does one need to enrol on a Foundation degree course? Let’s unpack.

Entry criteria for prospective students

Usually, there are no entry requirements for Foundation degree courses – each educational institution sets its own requirements. Their commercial experience and actual skills related to the programme they want to pursue can boost one’s chances of being accepted. A-levels and other formal qualifications are taken into account. However, they aren’t the determining factor during the selection process.

One can find this information on the official UCAS website or on the websites of various educational institutions that offer Foundation degree courses. For instance, let’s explore the entry requirements for a Foundation degree in Supporting Teaching and Learning in School at Nottingham College.

A minimum of 48 UCAS points are mandatory from:

  • At least two A Levels at A2
  • BTEC Diploma or Extended Diploma
  • International Baccalaureate
  • Access to HE Diploma

Besides, students are expected to showcase Level 2 or above in English/literacy and Maths/numeracy. Mature applicants who hold relevant professional experience are also welcome to apply.

Target audience and suitability

There are several categories of audiences that can benefit from obtaining a Foundation degree:

  • Those who already have a job but want to upskill and enhance their chances to climb the career ladder;
  • Those who have decided on a specific profession they want to pursue and now want to train for this profession;
  • Those who don’t feel like spending three years on obtaining a standard Bachelor’s degree;
  • Those who want to explore if the subject they have chosen meets their expectations before committing to a full degree programme;
  • Those who recognise how demanding it can be to combine work and university education.

How much does a Foundation Degree cost?

Tuition fees vary depending on the specialisation and the educational institution you choose. Sometimes, a Foundation Degree course may be less expensive than a regular undergraduate degree, however, normally the fees are relatively equal.

For instance, according to the information on the official Bath Spa University website (2023-2024):

  • Foundation courses at Elizabeth School of London, Circomedia, Fairfield and Global Banking School, or New City College cost £9,250, full-time.
  • Foundation courses at University Centre Weston cost £8,900, full-time.

We do recommend researching options for getting financial support through Student Finance England. It’s supposed to be paid back only once the individual graduates and meets the minimum earning threshold.

Curriculum and Areas of Study

Two more factors that make Foundation degree programmes worth your attention: they abound with a variety of specialisations and that they meet current labour market needs.

Variety of subjects and disciplines

People of all interests will find something to their liking as the list of programmes includes:

  • Teaching
  • Animal care
  • Psychology
  • Early education and childcare
  • Sales and retail
  • Care workers and home carers
  • IT
  • Pharmaceutical and chemical studies
  • Engineering
  • Art and design, and many more.

Alignment with industry needs and trends

Foundation degrees can be targeted at international, national, or local employment needs. Businesses that operate in your area may be short of particular specialists. To fill this gap, employers will collaborate with educational institutions and design a course that prepares potential employees with the required set of skills and knowledge for this particular job. Not only do businesses benefit from this, but graduates’ chances to find employment after graduation skyrocket.

Comparison with Other Degree Types

If you’re involved in deciding on your higher education path, you must have heard such words as “Undergraduate degree” and “Postgraduate degree”. Here, we explain what each stands for and which of them the Foundation degree belongs to.

Distinctions from undergraduate and postgraduate degrees

Simply put, a Bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate qualification. Studies and degrees that go after it are considered to be postgraduate. Those are typically a master’s degree and a doctoral degree.

So, what is the Foundation degree mainly equivalent to?

  • First and second year of Undergraduate degree which is two-thirds of a Bachelor’s degree;
  • A Higher National Diploma (HND) or Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) qualification;
  • Level 5 of the Regulated Qualifications Framework.

Advantages and disadvantages

  1. Focus on practical, work-related skills. This can significantly speed up the job-search process and enhance employability.
  2. Flexibility for those who need to work. There are several study options, including full-time foundation degrees, part-time and online foundation degree courses for those who combine work and studies.
  3. Flexible admissions requirements. There are no fixed entry requirements, and people of all backgrounds are welcome to apply.
  4. Potential for academic advancement. A Foundation degree is a so-called stepping stone to further education. It can be topped up to a full Bachelor’s degree.
  5. Industry immersion. Some courses collaborate with industry partners, allowing foundation degree students to find valuable connections and better understand industry practices.

And the opposite side of the matter:

  1. Limited recognition. Contrary to a widely accepted Bachelor’s degree, Foundation degrees tend to be recognised only in certain fields.
  2. Salary potential. Even though Foundation degree holders improve their salary prospects (compared to those with no degree), it’s not as much as those with higher academic qualifications.
  3. Transferability. Sometimes, the credits earned on a Foundation degree course completion may not be transferred to other higher education programs.

Recognition and Accreditation

What do employers think about candidates with a Foundation degree?

Validity and recognition in the UK job market

Since Foundation degree holders are those who are skilled at both theoretical knowledge and the practical part, many employers look favourably at them. Such employers tend to be efficient from day one, and this fact can significantly save an employer’s resources that are usually spent on training or onboarding.

Accreditation bodies and quality assurance

In the UK, higher education institutions generally offer foundation degrees nationwide. Some even have Foundation degree awarding powers, which means they can award Foundation degrees at level 5 of the Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ).

All UK higher education providers and providers in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are expected to meet the Expectations and Core Practices set out by the UK Quality Code for Higher Education.

Career Prospects for Foundation Degree Graduates

Once you’ve completed a Foundation degree course, what’s next? Let’s find out below.

Employment opportunities post-graduation

Many companies offer early career programmes to those who have obtained a Foundation degree and are looking for employment. The only challenge one may face is that Foundation courses are often specific, and you’ll have to choose only between jobs closely related to the one you completed.

Potential for further academic advancement

If you feel like continuing your studies, consider the following options:

  1. Enrolling on professional body qualifications or National Vocational Qualifications (NQVs);
  2. Topping up your two-year Foundation degree to a full Bachelor’s degree.

For those interested in work-based learning, there is an option of doing a Higher or Degree Apprenticeship. First, it’s a chance to earn a full degree while working. Second, your employer will be paying the tuition fees for you. It all depends on your career goals and how hard you are ready to work to achieve them.


  1. UCAS Guide on Foundation Degree
  2. Nottingham College
  3. Bath Spa University
  4. QAA UK Foundation Degree Characteristics
Foundation degree meaning in the UK
Date: 1 December 2023
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