HND vs Degree: What’s the Difference?

In General, University by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

When it comes to higher education, the most traditional route is an undergraduate degree, or more specifically a bachelor’s degree. However, there are many other options available to students. Some of these can still be studied at university, although others may be taken at a higher education college or through other education providers.

Due to this, it can be difficult to know where some of these alternative qualifications stand in comparison to the traditional degree. One of these alternative higher education qualifications that you can get is a higher national diploma or HND.

Have a look at the following table, which will give you a brief overview of how higher national diplomas (HNDs) compare against bachelor’s degrees and foundation degrees.

  HND Bachelor’s degree Foundation degree
Level Level 5 Level 6 Level 5
Duration 2 years (full-time study), 3- 4 years (part-time study) 3 years (full-time study), 6 years (part-time study) 2 years (full-time study), 3- 4 years (part-time study)
Type of qualification Vocational Academic Vocational with academic elements
Grading system Pass, Merit, Distinction grading system Degree classification grading system Pass, Merit, Distinction grading system

Above, we’ve seen a brief overview of how 2 types of degrees: bachelor’s degrees and foundation degrees compare to HNDs based on several factors. However, in the following article, we’ll break down all of this and explain what it actually means for students.

What is HND?

To be able to explain the differences between a HND and a degree, we need to be fully clear on what a HND is and what’s involved in taking one.

A HND or higher national diploma is a form of higher education that can be taken at higher education providers, such as a higher education college or even a university. HNDs are level 5 qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland or level 8 qualifications in Scotland. As level 5 qualifications, HNDs are at the second level of higher education and are meant to train students to a professional level. Check out this Think Student article to learn more about HND’s.

HNDs are also vocational qualifications. This means that students get more direct and hands on training in their field as opposed to more academic learning, where learning is only about the topic and is more general. Due to this, students will need to complete practical assignments and projects as a part of their course and as a form of assessment.

In the UK, with full time study, a HND will last 2 years. Whereas for part time study it will be between 3 and 4 years.

You can learn more about vocational qualifications by checking out this Think Student article. For more information about the level of a HND, have a look at this Think Student article.

Is a HND equivalent to a degree?

One of the main questions that people often have surrounding HNDs, and degrees are whether or not they’re the same or at least if they are equivalents of each other.

When considering the typical bachelor’s degree, no, a HND is not equivalent. This is because while HNDs are level 5 qualifications, as mentioned previously, bachelor’s degrees are level 6 qualifications.

This makes HNDs roughly equivalent to the first 2 years of a 3-year bachelor’s degree. While essentially only one year apart, there are some key differences between these 2 qualifications, which we’ll look at in the following section.

Another type of degree that we need to consider is the foundation degree. While still a form of undergraduate degree, foundation degrees are at a slightly lower level than the full bachelor’s degree. In fact, just like HNDs, they’re also level 5 qualifications and roughly equivalent to the first 2 years of a 3-year bachelor’s course.

Due to this, yes, HNDs are equivalent to foundation degrees. Despite this, there are still some differences between these 2 qualifications, once again, we’ll look at these in depth later on in the article.

What’s the difference between HND and bachelor’s degree?

As previously mentioned, HNDs and bachelor’s degrees are not equivalent due to them being at different levels. However, the differences between them don’t stop there.

While HNDs are vocational qualifications, bachelor’s degrees are primarily academic qualifications. In bachelor’s degrees, learning is primarily made up of lectures, seminars and essays or reports for students to complete.

Moreover, many bachelor’s degrees require students to complete an extended essay, called a dissertation, which will either be done on their own research or based off other studies or research. You can learn more about dissertations by checking out this Think Student article.

Other than how they’re taught and assessed, HNDs and bachelor’s degrees are also graded differently. HNDs are graded using the Pass, Merit and Distinction grading system. This system is widely used to grade qualifications, particularly vocational ones.

However, bachelor’s degrees instead use the degree classification system. This system uses the grades: first class honours degree (1st), upper second-class honours degree (2:1), lower second-class honours degree (2:2) and third-class honours degree (3rd).

Look at the following table to see how the HND grades compare to bachelor’s degree grades based on the percentage you need to achieve them.

HND grades Percentage Bachelor’s degree grades
Distinction 70%+ 1st
Merit 60- 69% 2:1
  50- 59% 2:2
Pass 40- 49% 3rd

For more information about the bachelor’s degree grading system, have a look at this Think Student article. To see how HND and bachelor’s degree grades compare, have a look at this Think Student article.

What’s the difference between a HND and a foundation degree?

As there are plenty of similarities between HNDs and foundation degrees, it’s important to fully understand how these qualifications differ, especially if you’re considering taking one of them. This is particularly as both qualifications are primarily vocational, and both operate as level 5 qualifications.

The main differences between HNDs and foundation degrees are how the courses are set up and taught as well as what the entry requirements to study them are.

HNDs are taught using a learning by doing format, which as we already established, means that students do a range of assignments and projects to make up their course. However, for foundation degrees, the approach is more blended.

While foundation degrees are still considered vocational, they also have some academic features in terms of how students are taught, such as through lectures. Moreover, the vocational element of the course is instead done through actual workplace learning, rather than just through a hands-on approach.

As with any other course, the entry requirements depend on the higher education provider. However, HNDs will generally always require students to have at least 1 A-Level or equivalent qualification. Whereas the requirements for foundation degrees tend to be less set and students may even be able to access the course based on their work experience rather than their education history.

You can take a look at this article by Brighton School of Business and Management to learn more about how these qualifications compare. You can also look through this Think Student article to learn about foundation degrees.

Can you convert a HND to a degree?

As we’ve looked at in this article, a HND is not equivalent to a bachelor’s degree and there are many differences between these qualifications. However, what you might be wondering is if they’re similar enough for students to change from a HND course to a full bachelor’s degree.

It is possible for students to convert a HND into a full bachelor’s degree. This is because, as previously stated, a HND is equivalent to the first 2 years of a 3-year bachelor’s degree.

This can be done all at once, if a student decides that they want a full degree while studying their HND or it can be done after they have completed their HND. If it’s done after the student has fully completed their HND and may have even begun working in their field, this is known as a top up degree. You can learn more about top up degrees by checking out this Think Student article.

Exactly how converting your HND studies or topping up the HND qualification that you already received into a full bachelor’s degree works will depend on the university as each have their own policies for this. In order to get more in-depth information, it’s best to check out university websites.

Is a HND better than a degree?

Comparing if one qualification is better than another is incredibly subjective. However, if we look at it objectively, we can consider the level and career and/or academic prospects that students can get from each qualification.

Considering this, a bachelor’s degree would be considered better than a HND as it is at a higher level and allows students to go onto postgraduate qualifications, where a minimum of a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite. It also enables students to get jobs that need them to have a degree, where a HND or even a foundation degree wouldn’t be considered enough.

Despite this, a HND may be better for some people. In some situations, students may find that the nature of a HND course, its duration and/or the learning style maybe more suitable for them.

*Information in this article relating to HNDs, foundation degrees and bachelor’s degrees can be found on these respective links to Think Student articles.

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