If you're looking to acquire skills in the workplace and gain an undergraduate qualification without committing to a full Bachelors course, a foundation degree is an excellent option

What is a foundation degree?

A foundation degree is the academic equivalent of two-thirds of a Bachelors degree, a Higher National Diploma (HND) and Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) - at Level 5 of the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF).

Created in partnership between universities, higher education colleges and employers, these courses focus on developing in-demand skills. Therefore, foundation degrees provide a strong platform for candidates seeking employment - but also open doors for those looking to study a full undergraduate qualification further down the line.

If you choose to study the qualification full time, it will typically take you two years to complete. The part time route usually lasts for around four years.

Foundation degree or foundation year?

Note that a foundation degree is not the same as a foundation year. A foundation degree is a standalone qualification equivalent to two years of a three-year degree, whereas a foundation year gives you access onto a degree course. See why you should consider a foundation year.

Choosing a foundation degree

Foundation degrees are vocational qualifications that give you the flexibility of studying while you work, so they're ideal for those who aren't yet ready to commit to three years of a full degree course.

Whichever course you choose, as well as the role-specific skills you'll gain, should also give you a range of sought-after qualities as an employee. However, it's important to pick a subject you'll enjoy as studying for a foundation degree requires motivation, high levels of organisation and the ability to adapt to different working environments.

Popular foundation degree subject fields in 2016/17, according to HESA's Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education data, include:

  • academic studies in education
  • others in subjects allied to medicine
  • social work
  • nursing
  • sport and exercise science
  • hospitality, leisure, sport, tourism and transport
  • business studies
  • animal science
  • drama
  • management studies
  • agriculture
  • design studies.

Before settling on a subject and course, it's important to research the entry requirements for your chosen career. You can do this by exploring relevant job profiles.

Search for foundation degree courses in the UK through UCAS.

You should also keep a look out for university open days and events aimed at prospective foundation degree students.

Entry requirements

There are no set entry requirements for foundation degrees, as having the relevant industrial or commercial workplace experience and skills in a particular sector is often more important than any formal qualifications. It's up to individual universities and colleges to stipulate their requirements, which you can find out via their websites.

For instance, to embark on a two-year Foundation Degree in Computing at Furness College, you'll need an A-level at grade C in a related subject and 32 UCAS Tariff points.

On the other hand, the Foundation Degree in Business and Management at Burnley College looks for 104-112 points. As well as considering your educational achievements and predicted grades, the college will take into account any non-standard qualifications such as relevant work or life experience. The main requirement is the ability to cope with degree-level study.

How to apply for a foundation degree

If you're looking to undertake a foundation degree course on a full-time basis, and the college or university is a UCAS course provider, you'll need to follow the guidelines for an undergraduate application - see how to apply for university.

For part-time degrees, you'll need to apply directly to the college or university providing the course.

Fees and funding

Course fees for foundation degrees will vary - for example, an Early Years Foundation Degree (FdA) from Kingston University (with attendance at a choice of local colleges) costs £5,300 per year for 2019/20 entry, while a foundation degree in computing and IT from Southport College is set at £6,000 for the first year.

Foundation degree students of recognised UK institutions will qualify for government funding. Tuition fee loans from Student Finance are available, as long as this is your first undergraduate qualification.

You may be entitled to additional funding if you're a parent, carer or have a disability. Universities also have their own grants and bursaries to offer to students with additional needs - see GOV.UK - Funding and finance for students.

'Topping up' to a degree

Most candidates studying a full-time foundation degree choose to extend their studies to a full degree the following academic year. However, with no time limit on topping up a foundation degree, this doesn't have to be done immediately - as many students return to their studies at a later date.

If you decide to change subjects for your full degree, you may need to complete more than one year's additional study to graduate with the right amount of credits.

If this subject has little or no relevance to your foundation degree, you may not be allowed to transfer and be expected to start a Bachelors degree from the first year. This will depend on the modules you've studied and credits you've gained. Alternatively, you may be able to enter the second year. Transferring to a programme within the institution that validated your foundation degree is the easiest way to make the switch.

Funding for top-up degrees as part of your first degree is not unconditional, so check with Student Finance and your university to see what's on offer.

Postgraduate courses aren't covered by Student Finance, as loans can only be used for full Masters courses and not to top up to a higher qualification.

Candidates completing a PGCE can consider applying for funding from the Department for Education (DfE).

For more information, visit funding postgraduate study.

What can I do with a foundation degree?

Upon completion of the qualification, if you're looking to enter a directly-related industry, the rounded skillset a foundation degree provides should be what you need to kick-start your career.

As you look for jobs, it's worth noting that many graduate recruiters will ask for a Bachelors degree as an entry requirement, so you might need to be prepared to top up your qualification.

Most UK graduate schemes will typically ask for a Bachelors degree of at least a 2:1, but alternative routes into these structured programmes are emerging. PwC, Deloitte and KPMG now have more flexible entry requirements geared towards critical thinking tests, relative work experience and other merits not related to a degree.

However, despite the fact your chances of securing employment may be greater with a full degree, many sectors are suffering from labour shortages in light of Brexit. A significant number of migrant workers are leaving the UK to look for work elsewhere. The hospitality, healthcare and manufacturing industries in particular have faced significant setbacks, so if the skills gained through your foundation degree are relevant, this may make you a desirable candidate.

If you have a career path in mind, check whether foundation degrees are accepted as you search graduate jobs.

How can I do a Masters degree?

You won't be able to make the leap from foundation degree to a postgraduate course. A foundation degree is a Level 5 qualification, so to enrol onto a Level 7 Masters course in the UK, you'll need a full Bachelors degree (at Level 6). Once you have this, you'll be able to head straight into postgraduate study, and may even be eligible for some PhDs.

If you're looking to become a primary or secondary school teacher, you'll need to obtain a Bachelors degree in order to be accepted onto the teacher training Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course. Find out more about how to become a teacher.

To discover your options after topping up to a Masters degree, search postgraduate courses.

What do other foundation degree graduates do?

Nearly two-thirds (61.5%) of foundation degree graduates from 2016/17 were in some form of employment six months after graduation, while more than a third (34.4%) were studying either full or part time. By including those studying while working, the majority of graduates were engaged in further study (55.9%).

Foundation degree graduates enter a variety of professions each year, including:

For ideas on what to do with your foundation degree, search what can I do with my degree?

DestinationPercentage
Working full time32.1
Working part time7.8
Further study34.4
Working and studying21.5
Unemployed1.8
Other2.3
Destinations of foundation degree graduates
Type of workPercentage
Childcare and related personal services16.1
Health associate professionals12.2
Teaching and educational professionals6.5
Caring personal services6.2
Welfare and housing associate professionals5.3
Engineering professionals4.5
Others49.2
Types of work entered in the UK

Destinations data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.