What is Higher Education?

In General, University by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

Throughout education, students come across many technical terms related to their studies. Many of these can be similar or even sound the same. However, some have completely different meanings and separate uses. Higher education is one of the most confusing, as it is often mixed up with further education. If this is you, look at this article to get a comprehensive overview of what higher education is and other related terms.

Higher education is education undertaken after students leave secondary school and sixth form college, usually at the age of 18, but also by mature students older than this. It usually involves studying at the undergraduate or postgraduate level for a degree at university. It allows students to gain a deeper understanding of a subject they find interesting while also increasing their earning potential.

While this may have given you a surface level answer, you must read on to find out more details about higher education and many other key terms relating to school life.

What is higher education?

Simply put, higher education is education or training undertaken after you leave school and sixth form college, usually at a university. It most commonly involves undergraduate and postgraduate study. However, it can also include a multitude of other qualifications.

Higher education is often confused with Further Education; however, they are not the same. Further education covers all qualifications lower than a degree that are undertaken after GCSEs, or after 16th birthday. An example of further education would be A-Levels. However, higher education is undertaken after this.

For more information on what further education is, please check out this article.

There are many types of higher education degrees available, including foundation courses and degree apprenticeships. Whatever qualifications students have, university education should be an option for them.

Students often look to higher education to gain a deeper understanding of a subject they are passionate about, while increasing their earning potential and widening their job opportunities. It is particularly important for medical careers, where extensive higher education study is needed. There is also the option to undertake a doctorate and other postgraduate qualifications such as master’s degrees. These can lead to a teaching or research position at a university. Check out this article to find out more about doctorates.

What age is higher education?

Due to commencing when students complete A-Levels (or equivalent qualifications), higher education most often begins at age 18. This is also because students are required by law to be in some kind of education until they reach 18; in some parts of the UK, it is 16.

However, not all students attending university begin at the age of 18. It is fairly common for students older than 18 to go to university, for both undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications. They are referred to as mature students. Sometimes they have separate halls of residence, spaces on courses and facilities dedicated for them. This makes studying a rewarding experience, so if you are over 18 and still considering university, remember that it can be a great option at any age!

It is also not unheard of for students under the age of 18 to attend university. This is usually home-schooled students or students who were put up a year at some point during their education, leading to them being a year ahead of their peers. They usually need to sign various forms, so it is important to check with your chosen universities policies on under-18s for specific information.

If you are considering university, but are not fully decided on whether you should go, this handy article presents a helpful overview of the positives and negatives.

Is higher education compulsory?

Higher education is not a compulsory stage of education. In the UK, as mentioned above, there are 5 stages of education: early years, primary years, secondary education, further education, and higher education. Students enter the school system at the age of 3 and are legally required to attend school for compulsory education up to the age of 16. This means they achieve GCSE or BTEC qualifications, which allow them to then choose to continue to further, then higher education at a later date.

In England, students are then required to remain in some form of education until the age of 18, however, other UK nations do not have this requirement. After this point, any education undertaken is by personal choice. This is why it is known as further or higher education because not all pupils will undertake it. However, it is an option for all students, no matter what qualifications they achieve there is usually some kind of higher education available to them.

Students sometimes wonder what happens if they do not stay in education until the age of 18, so if you are interested please read this article.

Because it is not compulsory, higher education often gives students an advantage when applying for jobs and in other areas of life. This is because it shows dedication and interest in one subject that others may not have. Some jobs may even require education to degree level, meaning that they are only open to those who have studied at university.

What are examples of higher education?

What qualifications count as higher education are set out by the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ). This has descriptions of all the main higher education qualifications, which are in levels 4-8 of the framework.

The main qualifications are:

  • Foundation degrees – either extended bachelor’s degrees or short courses designed to give access to higher education to students who may not have achieved the grades required for a full bachelor’s degree. Most degrees and universities offer this type of degree, so if you are unsure, you will have the qualifications required, check this out as an option.
  • Undergraduate degrees, also known as bachelor’s degrees – these are usually called BA (Bachelor of Arts), or BSc (Bachelor of Science) based on what course you do. This is the typical first level of degree gained by students in university.
  • Master’s degrees – advanced level degrees which are undertaken after an undergraduate degree. These often involve research and require an undergraduate degree in a related field to study. They are often used as a steppingstone to Postgraduate Degrees.
  • Doctorates – this is usually regarded as the highest level of higher education and is a mark of academic excellence. It normally involves research and taught elements and can be done in any subject (not just medicine). This is a very challenging qualification, but the career and educational benefits are huge from studying at this level.
  • Other academic awards granted by universities and colleges (not including honorary degrees and higher doctorates).

For more information on what courses are counted as higher education, this article is extremely helpful.

Is university higher education?

As already discussed, studying at a university is the most common form of higher education undertaken by students in the UK. It involves many distinct levels of study and many options for subject choice so is usually the first port of call accessed by students considering higher education.

Think student has a full guide to this question, so if you want to know more about whether university is higher education, please check out this helpful article.

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