Foundation Degrees

Foundation Degrees

What is a Foundation degree?

  • A university level (Level 5), employment-focussed qualification
  • A course designed in partnership with employers to address local, regional or national skills needs
  • A course delivered primarily by universities and colleges and occasionally by other organisations (for example, private training providers)
  • A course which offers a blend of academic and work-based learning
  • A qualification validated and awarded by universities
  • A stand-alone recognised degree in its own right equivalent to the first two years of an honours degree
  • A qualification which allows graduates to use letters after their name such as FdA, FdSc, FdEng, depending on the course of study
  • A course which entitles graduates to progress to honours degree level (usually into the final year) or other higher level (such as professional qualifications) through further study

Find out more: How Foundation degrees fit with other qualifications.

How are Foundation degrees different from other university-level qualifications?

  • They are aimed primarily at people in the workplace to increase skills and knowledge, thus improving performance and career prospects
  • Employers input to their design and delivery
  • They require a learner to demonstrate workplace competences alongside the equivalent standard of academic attainment, with both elements counting towards their qualification
  • They are used by some individuals to gain entry to a particular employment field or to support a career change
  • They offer a choice of study options (e.g. full-time, part-time, online and distance learning) to fit around personal, work and other commitments
  • A full-time course will typically take two years to complete. A part-time course may take longer, although this is not always the case
  • There is no national 'syllabus' for Foundation degrees, as there is with honours degree courses. They will differ from one provider to another in terms of the content, delivery styles, assessment methods and entry requirements
  • Some courses have been designed for the employees of a specific organisation or people who are doing a specific job.
  • Some Foundation degrees are more general and are aimed at those looking to enter a career pathway or employment field, like many art and design courses for example
  • Some courses will lead to a professional qualification as well as a Foundation degree

Find out more: The benefits of Foundation degree study for learners and employers.

What a Foundation degree is not

  • It is not a foundation course or 'entry-level' programme that leads to a degree-level course (such as the foundation in art and design); it is a degree-level qualification in its own right
  • It is not less academically challenging than an honours degree; it offers a blend of practical, work-based learning with rigorous, degree-level academic study
  • It is not ideal for all learners and consideration needs to be given to a learner's specific circumstances, needs and career aspirations in respect of all HE progression routes
  • Entry requirements are generally more flexible than for other types of higher education
  • For individuals in employment (and over 21 years of age) formal qualifications are not always required for entry to a Foundation degree. Indeed, relevant employment experience may be more important
  • For individuals under 21 years of age, relevant level 3 qualifications (e.g. BTEC National Diploma, A-Levels, competence based qualifications at Level 3 or Advanced Apprenticeship) are almost always required for entry to a Foundation degrees
  • In some cases, individuals who wish to undertake a Foundation degree must be in relevant employment (or have access to a suitable workplace)

Student support

  • Foundation degree students have access to the same financial and learning support as other higher education students
  • Course tutors and advisers will support formal study in college or university, with mentors being assigned to support learning in the workplace

Find out more: Funding higher level learning.

Finding a Foundation degree

  • Over 3000 Foundation degree courses are currently available
  • Foundation degree course titles tend to relate to employment sectors. Examples include: Business Management; Construction Management; Early Years; Health and Social Care; Hospitality Management; Logistics; Public Services; Retail Management; Veterinary Nursing; and Youth Justice
  • There are lots of programmes with similar titles and differing content so it’s always best to check course content in detail the university/college website.

You can visit the UCAS website to search for a full-time Foundation degree course or contact the National Careers Service. Further details about a specific course (e.g. how and where the course is taught, what time commitment is required, costs etc) can be obtained from the university or college involved. Sources of information include:

  • the university/college prospectus (a copy can usually be ordered via their website or over the phone)
  • individual course leaflets (usually available to download from the university/college website)
  • admissions or enquiries helpdesk – most institutions will have a telephone or email service for initial enquiries
  • course tutors – will be able to answer detailed questions (e.g. entry requirements, career prospects)

Anyone thinking of studying a Foundation degree will want to be sure that the course will be the best route to fulfilling personal and career goals. We’ve put together a list of questions for prospective learners to ask before making a decision in our guide Choosing to take up higher learning opportunities while working.

Who does Foundation degrees, typically?

  • 65% of Foundation degree students are 'mature' (over 21 years of age) when commencing their studies and 57% of students are female.
  • Most 'young' students (under 21 years of age) choose to study full-time.
  • Mature students tend to study on a part-time basis.

Foundation degrees and disabled learners

Universities and colleges are committed to supporting the needs of all disabled students and Foundation degree students are no different. Every university or college will have a Disability Adviser or Learning Support Coordinator who can advise on what support is available. Learners should be encouraged to contact their course provider as early as possible and ideally to pay them a visit before making a decision on a course. Read Tracy's story.

Employers and Foundation degrees

There are many success stories that highlight how employers have worked collaboratively with HE providers and sector bodies to develop and deliver Foundation degree qualifications that provide students with the knowledge, understanding and higher level skills that employers need.

The FdA Travel Operations Management was designed and developed with the support of Foundation Degree Forward (fdf) and a wide range of travel employers, including Thomson parent firm TUI, and supported by the Institute of Travel and Tourism, the Tourism Society and ABTA. The degree effectively combines academic and workplace study so that students gain a realistic understanding of a variety of travel specific issues. Read the travel industry case study about how this Foundation degree, which is now being rolled out across the travel industry, was initially developed and launched to the sector.

The FdA Retail was developed by lead partners Tesco and fdf to train retail managers across the sector, in collaboration with two HE providers and various sector bodies. Underpinned by workforce development needs, the Foundation degree is a university awarded qualification for the retail industry to make knowledge and skills transferable across the sector. The two year work-based course was piloted by Tesco employees – our case study highlights some of their experiences and how the course came into being. Read the case study about how this Foundation degree, which is now being rolled out across the travel industry, was initially developed and launched to the sector.

The FdA Builders' Merchanting was recently launched by Jewson, the UK's leading builders' merchant. Jewson partnered up with Birmingham City University to get its existing training accredited as part of the new Foundation degree in Builders' Merchanting designed to support Jewson in raising the skills of its workforce. Read the builders' merchant case study to see how this employer-led, sector relevant Foundation degree, a first for the sector, was developed through innovative employer/HE provider engagement and partnership.

Note: The fdf no longer exists.

Applying for a Foundation degree

  • Applications for part-time programmes will almost always be direct to the delivering institution
  • As with most honours degrees, the application route for full-time students is via UCAS, although some institutions take direct applications so it's always best to check with them

Find out more: Foundation Degrees FAQ.