An Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma is a full level 3 qualification which prepares students for studying at university. It is designed for people who would like to study in higher education but who left school without sufficient qualifications. The Access to HE Diploma is regulated by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). The QAA license Access Validating Agencies (AVAs) to quality assure, validate, and award the Diplomas.
Approximately 35,000 to 40,000 students undertake an Access to HE Diploma every year in England and Wales. Access to HE students are highly diverse. Nationally, close to half of Access to HE students are aged 25 and over; one in three students are from ethnic minorities; one in four are from a disadvantaged area; and one in five live with a disability and/or learning difficulty (source: QAA annual statistics 2018-19)
Access to HE students tend to perform similarly to students who gained other level 3 qualifications. In 2021, QAA found that 64% of Access to HE students achieve a first or upper second class degree, opposed to 69% of students with other level 3 qualifications. The Office for Students found that Access to HE students achieve first or upper second class degrees at a higher proportion than students who studied a foundation year.
For more information on Access to HE courses nationwide, please visit www.accesstohe.ac.uk.
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If you are a higher education institution, becoming a CAVA member will enable you to:
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There is an Access to HE Diploma toolkit available for Higher Education Admissions teams published by the QAA.
The toolkit, along with associated PowerPoint presentations, can be found on the QAA regulatory website. Click here to visit the website.
Individual links are as follows:
Toolkit for Admissions Staff: www.qaa.ac.uk/docs/qaa/about-us/access-to-he-toolkit-admissions.pdf
Part C: Presentation – Specification: www.qaa.ac.uk/docs/qaa/about-us/access-to-he-toolkit-presentation-specification.pdf
Part C: Presentation – Admissions: www.qaa.ac.uk/docs/qaa/about-us/access-to-he-toolkit-presentation-admissions.pdf
Access to HE students tend to perform well at university, we are always keen to have more. It is a real benefit of working with CAVA that our staff are able to input on and shape Access to HE courses through the validation process that dovetail into our undergraduate degrees.
We are a firm believer in Access to HE and we highly value it as a route for mature students to progress to university. The CAVA team is lovely and welcoming. There are lots of ways to get involved with CAVA’s work, there is always a clear focus and it is highly valuable.
The Diploma is a credit-based qualification, comprising units of assessment totalling 60 credits. Of these 60 credits, 45 credits must be achieved at level 3 from graded units, and 15 credits must be achieved at level 2 or level 3 from ungraded units. Units come in three sizes: 3 credits, 6 credits, and 9 credits.
Units comprise ‘learning outcomes’ which are statements of what a student may be expected to know or do as the result of learning. Students are assessed against ‘assessment criteria’ which describe the requirements that must be met to demonstrate achievement of learning outcomes. One credit within the Access to HE Diploma represents those learning achievements that can be demonstrated in 10 notional learning hours. Therefore a 3 credit unit equates to 30 notional learning hours.
Students are assessed at unit level. Students must be able to demonstrate all learning outcomes in order to receive a grade for the unit. Ungraded units are recorded as either ‘Achieved’ or ‘Not achieved’. For graded units, students receive either a ‘Pass’, ‘Merit’, or ‘Distinction’ grade. Upon successful completion of an Access to HE Diploma, the student will have demonstrated a standardised level of academic achievement appropriate for level 3. Students do not receive one overall grade for the qualification. Instead, they will receive a transcript with 15 credits of ‘Achieved’ grades and 45 credits of ‘Pass’, ‘Merit’, and/or ‘Distinction’ grades.
The Access to HE Diploma is usually delivered within one academic year, with multiple assessment points throughout the year. Providers often start the course by delivering ungraded units to build students’ study skills and ease their transition back into education. As students have often had a substantial break from learning prior to enrolling, their performance at the start of the course may not reflect their full potential. As a result, tutors may find it difficult to provide reliable predicted grades in the early months of a course, when UCAS applications are being prepared.
The Access to HE Diploma was added to the UCAS tariff for all courses starting from September 2017 onwards. Further information is available via this link.
The Access to HE Diploma is regulated by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). The QAA licences Access Validating Agencies (AVAs) to quality assure, validate, and award the Diplomas in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. While the Access to HE Diploma has been designed for adults, there are no national restrictions on students’ age while completing the qualification. The Access to HE Diploma can be completed by domestic and international students, as long as the student has a UK postcode for the duration of their studies. You can find more information and resources on the QAA’s website.
Higher education (HE) staff play an important role in the development and quality assurance of Access to HE Diplomas. HE staff can serve as external moderators, which involves sampling coursework to ensure academic standards, and monitoring the course to confirm a positive student experience and outcomes. Moderators also provide advice on course development and approve course modifications. HE staff also sit on validation panels, which involves the review of new Diploma proposals and proposals for continuation of existing Diplomas, and assessing the ability of providers to deliver their Diplomas.
Through these opportunities, HE staff can: play a key role in the development of high-quality Access to HE Diplomas which prepare students for study at HE level; meet widening participation targets by supporting mature students; develop staff skills through external moderation and validation training; and build networks and partnerships with local FECs.