Students pursuing higher education in the United Kingdom have several options to choose from when selecting schooling, among them a career qualification, also known as a higher national diploma; a foundation degree; and a university degree. A foundation degree is an intermediate, generally two-year degree that allows students to gain specific degree-level vocational training while completing their studies. Foundation degrees are available from most accredited UK universities in disciples as varied as nursing, engineering, or business management. Foundation degrees can usually be supplemented with additional schooling to obtain a full university degree.
The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Education created the foundation degree program in 2000 as a way to help fill vacancies for skilled technicians in a variety of fields. The higher national diploma program provides students with a certificate of competency in a particular vocational area, and is usually undertaken as preparation for a degree program. Foundation degree programs give qualified students the chance to jump directly to that degree. These programs are particularly attractive to students for whom going to a university, for whatever reason, is not immediately desirable, but who otherwise have what it takes to successfully enter into the skilled workforce.
Much of a foundation degree student’s work is completed through hands-on work experience. Foundation degrees are usually offered through full-time, residential universities, but the program generally involves as much on-the-job learning as classroom learning. The admissions requirements and course specifics of foundation degree programs vary depending on the granting institution, but most are designed for mid-range students, and usually take two years to complete. Many foundational degrees can be completed at least in part online, and can often be tailored to fit a student’s schedule.
Some students pursue foundation degrees as a means of starting a career, or in order to receive a specialized vocational qualifications. Students in this category generally enter foundational degree programs directly from high school. In the United Kingdom, a foundation degree is the fastest way to gain industry experience, obtain credentialed instruction, and enter the workforce with a qualifying degree all in one fell swoop.
Foundation degrees are also attractive to working professionals who want to gain additional qualifications in their chosen area, often for purposes of promotion or other advancement. A foundation degree program can be a starting place for professionals looking for a career change. Immigrants to the UK whose educational degrees are not recognized may also pursue foundation degrees in order to integrate into the UK market for their profession.
In most cases, foundation degree holders are eligible for a full university degree in their field with just a year of additional coursework. The foundation degree in many ways resembles the associate’s degree that is often awarded in the United States. Both associate’s degrees and foundation degrees give students recognized credentials that fall somewhere between a skills certificate and a university degree. Both also mark a sort of half-way point to that university degree.