Foundation degrees: providing higher education qualifications to improve employees' skills

Foundation degrees explained for employers


A Foundation degree is a higher education qualification mainly delivered in local colleges which combines academic and work related learning. Read on to find out more about what a Foundation degree is, how it works and who can apply.

What is a Foundation degree?

Foundation degrees are designed to equip students with the knowledge, skills and attributes required in the workplace by combining academic and work related learning. They are designed and delivered through partnerships between employers/employer organisations, the Universities and local Colleges.

Employers are fully involved in the design, development and delivery of these degrees so that graduates gain industry specific skills and knowledge which they can then apply to benefit your workplace.

Foundation degrees are available in a wide range of subject areas and are delivered through the local Colleges. They can be flexible in their delivery so they can fit around an employee's work pattern.

The University is the body with degree-awarding powers and has responsibility for ensuring standards.

How does a Foundation degree work?

Foundation degrees are offered in all six Further Education Regional Colleges and the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE). Foundation degrees can also be studied through the Open University.

A Foundation degree can be studied full-time over two years but many can be studied on a part-time basis. The part-time courses are flexible and can fit in with existing work patterns meaning your employees will be able to study towards the qualification with minimal disruption to their work commitments.

Work based learning is an important part of the Foundation degree programme so students gain work skills for example, communication and team working, as well as professional ethics and technical skills. Students who successfully complete a Foundation degree also have the option of progressing to university to "top-up" their qualification to an Honours Degree.

What does it cost?

Tuition fees are payable for all Foundation degrees. Your local college, CAFRE or Open University NI can advise what tuition fees they charge for a Foundation degree course.

Those studying Foundation degrees are entitled to the same financial student support as other higher education students. This support may include student loans, assistance with tuition fees, maintenance grants and bursaries. More information on the financial support available can be found at:

Who can apply?

Foundation degrees may be suitable for a variety of people including employees wishing to improve their skills and prospects in their current job through part-time higher level study, or people who want to reskill in a new area.

Entry requirements for a Foundation degree will depend on the course and the college. They will normally be stated in terms of A Levels or vocational equivalents such as BTEC National Diplomas.

Applicants who lack formal qualifications but who can demonstrate they have relevant experience, skills and aptitudes may also be considered through a process known as Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL). Your employees can contact their local college to get further details about entry to the Foundation degree of their choice through APEL.


If you are an employer who would like more information on Foundation Degrees, please contact your local Further Education College.

More useful links