HND vs foundation degree – What's the difference?

If you are looking to improve your qualifications and learn new skills, choosing the right course or certification can seem difficult with numerous options available. These choices could help you get a better job in the future. You can learn in different ways, like by going to college or taking more advanced classes. There are lots of ways to learn more about the things you're interested in.

Some of the options to consider are Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) or foundation degrees.

The most significant difference between a Higher National Diploma (HND) and a foundation degree lies in their structure. A foundation degree combines practical work-related projects with academic assignments. However, an HND primarily comprises a series of work-related tasks and doesn't require writing essays.

If you're confused between an HND and a foundation degree, we've made a list of important things to help you decide which one to choose. So, let us dive deeper to understand the difference between an HND and a foundation degree. But let us have a look at the basics first.

What are Higher National Diplomas?

A Higher National Diploma is a qualification focused on practical skills relevant to a specific job field. With HNDs, you learn by practising the skills needed in a real work setting. These diplomas cover a wide range of subjects, from business management and finance to areas like human resources and accounting. HNDs are popular among individuals aiming to learn while working and gaining valuable skills that can easily be applied in different situations.

Choose an HND if:

1. You want to focus on a specific skill or trade.

2. You're eager to start working in a particular industry as soon as possible.

3. You prefer practical training and hands-on experience.

4. You're looking for a qualification that can also serve as a stepping stone to further education.

What is a foundation degree?


A foundation degree combines structured academic learning with hands-on training in a job environment. The idea is to provide students with both theoretical knowledge and practical workplace skills. Typically, a foundation degree takes about two years of full-time study or three years if taken part-time. Like HNDs, this adaptable course structure allows you to shape your education around your existing obligations. Foundation degrees are available in various academic fields, offering a well-rounded education. Many higher education institutions offer the option to upgrade your foundation degree to a full honours degree, a path also achievable through the HND route.

Choose a foundation degree if:

1. You want to develop a mix of theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

2. You're interested in exploring a subject area in depth without committing to a specific career path.

3. You're considering further studies and want a smooth progression to a full bachelor's degree.

4. You value a broader skill set that can be applicable across various industries.

Is a foundation degree the same as a bachelor's degree?

Foundation degrees are categorised at level 5, placing them slightly below the status of a bachelor's degree. However, upon successful completion of a foundation degree, you have the option to enhance it to a full honour's degree through additional study when you feel prepared.

The entry criteria for foundation degrees vary based on the chosen subject. Requirements may encompass qualifications like A-levels or relevant industry experience. Admission typically involves a personalised assessment to ensure you possess the necessary background knowledge and skills essential for completing the course.

Similarities between foundation degrees and HND qualifications

  • Both foundation degrees and HND qualifications share the same timeframe for completion and involve a similar amount of effort. They are also placed at the same academic level, which leads to similar entry requirements. However, these credentials are distinct for their practical orientation, emphasising more hands-on learning compared to a traditional undergraduate degree.

  • Since these courses share the same level and intensity, they generally provide equivalent opportunities for further education.

  • A notable difference from traditional bachelor's degrees is that A-levels are not a mandatory prerequisite for entering either an HND or a foundation degree course.

  • These qualifications are recognised and eligible for student financial support in the UK.

Want to study HND courses in the UK?

Difference between HND and foundation degree

HNDs and foundation degrees are two prominent paths when it comes to higher education. These routes provide unique methods of learning and preparing for careers. In this section, let us look at the difference between an HND and a foundation degree.

  1. HND vs foundation degree: Learning approach

The main difference between an HND and a foundation degree is that an HND primarily focuses on hands-on learning, while a foundation degree combines practical workplace learning with academic teachings.

  1. HND vs foundation degree: Qualifications level

In the Higher Education Qualifications Framework, an HND and a foundation degree is classified as a level 5 qualification. Furthermore, a foundation degree qualification is equivalent to about two-thirds of a bachelor’s degree in weight.

  1. HND vs foundation degree: Progression

The other difference between an HND and a foundation degree is that the HNDs are designed to prepare you for immediate employment. However, they can also serve as a stepping stone for further education, such as progressing to the final year of a bachelor's degree course. Whereas foundation degrees offer the opportunity to progress to a full bachelor's degree if you decide to continue your education. This allows you to build on your existing knowledge and skills.

  1. HND vs foundation degree: Career prospects

HNDs provide a direct route into the job market, equipping you with the skills needed for specific roles. Whereas foundation degrees can enhance your employability by offering a mix of theoretical understanding and practical skills. Additionally, foundation degrees are suitable for roles that require a broader skill set.

HND vs foundation degree



Foundation degree

Level 5 qualification


Eligible for student finance



Two years of full-time study



Vocational focus



Progress to top-up degree



Involves academic writing



What are the advantages of an HND?

An HND offers several advantages for your career journey. With a focus on hands-on learning, it equips you with practical skills that match industry needs. Let us explore the numerous advantages of an HND in this section.

  • Direct path to a career: If you're aiming for a straightforward path to a career, an HND could be a great fit. It equips you with the necessary skills and knowledge to step into a job or further education within your chosen field. This foundation of knowledge and skills can prove valuable throughout your professional journey. Moreover, having an HND can open doors to various employment opportunities in your desired industry. Employers often favour candidates with an HND over those with GCSEs or A-levels.

  • Alternate path to level 6 qualification: If you're interested in pursuing a degree but aren't ready for a full three-year commitment, an HND offers an appealing alternative. Positioned as a high-level qualification, an HND lets you expand upon your existing skills and knowledge while gaining practical experience in a specific work sector. This option is particularly beneficial if you're seeking professional exposure without fully committing to a degree course.

The below details tells us where these qualifications are placed in the system of UK qualifications.
















What are the advantages of a foundation degree?


A foundation degree offers distinct benefits for your educational and career journey. Combining academic learning with practical skills provides a well-rounded education. Over two years, you'll develop a solid understanding of your chosen field while gaining real-world experience. This balance between theory and application enhances your versatility and prepares you for a range of roles. Let us look at some more advantages of a foundation degree in this section.

  • Specialisation in a specific field: If you're passionate about a particular area, a foundation degree can be beneficial. Moreover, you have the option to further your studies and earn a bachelor’s degree. This lets you gain deeper insights into your chosen subject and explore it more comprehensively.

  • Development of academic skills: A foundation degree is an excellent starting point at a higher education institution. It's crafted to prepare students for advanced studies, nurturing skills like critical thinking, writing and research. You learn to write essays, interpret data, solve problems and grasp the theoretical foundations of your chosen field. Opting for a foundation degree can also be valuable if you're unsure about your career direction. It provides the chance to explore various subjects and decision-making processes before committing to an advanced or bachelor's degree.

  • Enhanced readiness for a degree: A foundation degree serves as further preparation for higher-level degrees. It bridges the gap between vocational or technical qualifications and bachelor's degrees, making it a suitable choice for students seeking to continue their education. The degree offers opportunities to refine skills such as communication and analysis through assignments.

  • Flexibility: Completing a foundation degree opens the door to pursuing a full degree. This flexibility means you can choose the learning pathway that suits you. Whether you study part-time or full-time, it's feasible to switch courses if needed. Age is no barrier, making it an ideal option for individuals aiming to return to education or those who have taken a break from learning.

HND vs foundation degree: Job opportunities

Both HNDs and foundation degrees provide valuable practical skills and knowledge that can enhance employability. However, the impact on graduates' job prospects is influenced more by the specific subject they studied, than the type of qualification they received. In short, this means that your chosen career path and the specific skills in demand play a larger role in determining your earnings than the distinction between opting for an HND or a foundation degree.

Since both qualifications are on the same level and require similar effort, they provide comparable paths for advancement. It's quite common for graduates holding these practical qualifications to extend their studies by a year and complete a top-up degree, leading to the attainment of a complete undergraduate honours degree.

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Frequently asked questions about HND vs foundation degree

The main difference between an HND and a foundation degree is the focus and depth of study. HND courses emphasise practical skills for specific industries, while foundation degrees offer a mix of academic and practical learning.

Yes, both qualifications can lead to job opportunities. However, the job roles available might differ based on the qualifications you hold.

Tuition fees and costs can vary, so it's essential to compare the financial difference between an HND and a foundation degree course.

Yes, both HNDs and foundation degrees often offer specialisation options, allowing you to focus on a specific area of interest.

Many students work part-time while studying for either qualification, but it's important to balance work and studies effectively. Contact us to know more.

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