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For details of access arrangements in Scotland see profile of Scottish Wider Access Programme.

  • England
  • Wales
  • Northern Ireland (There is limited QAA-recognised Access to HE provision in NI. The majority of access courses are available in FE colleges.)

The Access to HE Diploma is a qualification designed to prepare adults, with few prior qualifications, for  higher education study.

Education context

The Access to HE Diploma is designed for adults who have been identified as having the potential to achieve at HE-entry standard.

Most will have significant experience outside formal education before they join the Access to HE course.

Diploma titles reflect the intended progression route or main area of study, e.g. Access to HE Diploma (Nursing), Access to HE Diploma (Humanities).

Please note the common titling format for QAA-regulated Diploma titles, Access to HE Diploma (Subject Area), forms part of its regulation. Other access courses with titles that do not follow this format are not regulated by QAA. QAA maintains a publicly available database of regulated Access to HE Diplomas that is available at

There are 11 awarding bodies for Access to HE Diplomas, known as Access Validating Agencies (AVAs). AVAs work in partnership with HE and FE, and are regulated by the Quality Assurance Agency.

For more details, including links to AVA home pages, see

Awarding organisations
  • Agored Cymru
  • AIM Awards
  • Ascentis
  • Cambridge Access Validating Agency
  • Gateway Qualifications
  • LASER Learning Awards
  • OCN London
  • Open College Network West Midlands
  • ONE Awards
  • Open Awards
  • Open College Network Yorkshire and Humber (trading as Certa)

The Access to HE Diploma has a unitised structure.

All Diplomas comprise a number of units of 3, 6 or 9 credits which in all cases provide a common total of 60 credits.

45 credits must come from graded Level 3 units concerned with academic subject content.

15 credits come from ungraded Level 3 or Level 2 units.

Access to HE Diplomas no longer include GCSE equivalent units (previously these had been available in English, maths, and science, as part of the qualification). Where a GCSE is studied at the same time as an Access to HE Diploma, confirmation of academic achievement in each course may occur at separate times.

Subject areas

There are over 450 Access to HE Diplomas, covering a diverse range of subjects, from nursing and social work, to engineering and law. Where Diplomas have vocational titles, such as nursing, this indicates the intended progression route; the content covers the academic subjects (such as biology) needed to prepare for vocationally related courses in higher education.

  • Level 3

UK Level 3 and / or Scottish Level 6 / 7 qualifications.

Regarded as similar level to the following UK qualification benchmark: GCE AS / A levels.


A standard system of grading is used for all Access to HE Diplomas.

Each graded Level 3 unit is graded at Pass, Merit or Distinction.

Grading decisions are based on the application of a standard method and a common set of grade descriptors.

Results are given as a grade profile, recorded on students’ achievement transcripts (issued with the certificate of achievement of the Access to HE Diploma).


Students are assessed to determine the achievement of the learning outcomes of units. Units may be assessed individually or in groups within one integrated assessment.

Modes of assessment must be appropriate to the academic discipline and the progression route. The details of assignments are locally determined.

Student work is internally assessed and moderated, according to systems monitored by AVAs.

Student work is also externally moderated by moderators who act on behalf of AVAs to ensure that academic standards are secure and maintained, in terms of:

  • the academic demand of assignment
  • consistency and sufficiency in the performance of students who are recommended for the award of specific credits, grades and Diplomas

Assessment regulations for the award of the Access to HE Diploma (including regulations relating to matters such as extenuating circumstances, resubmissions and referrals) are specified by QAA, and must be applied by all providers.

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

Students are registered for units to the value of 60 credits specified within their particular Diploma structure. Students are registered for units at the start of their course. Changes to these registered units are permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

Students are required to achieve all 60 credits in order to attain their Diploma.

Grades are applied to specified academic Level 3 units to the value of 45 credits only.

A further 15 non-graded credits are required at either Level 3 or 2. (Level 2 units are only included within a Diploma if they address a clearly articulated need in relation to the subject of the Diploma).

The student’s grade profile is recorded on their achievement transcript, which is issued with the certificate of achievement of their Access to HE Diploma. The certificate of achievement includes the Access to HE logo and the Access Validating Agency’s logo.

Resit arrangements

There is one opportunity for resubmission of a unit, if a student does not achieve at first attempt.

A second (and final) resubmission opportunity may be granted for that unit in certain circumstances, following a process of referral.

If a unit has been achieved, the grade given cannot be altered. ‘Grade polishing’ (i.e. the resubmission of work for a unit to achieve a higher grade, where a grade has already been given) is not permitted.

Guided/notional learning hours notes

Learning time associated with the Access to HE Diplomas is not standardised, and varies depending on students’ prior learning and experience.

Course duration depends on mode of delivery: students may complete a course through full- or part-time study (usually over one or two years). But they may take up to a maximum of five years through credit accumulation if, for example, they are studying by distance learning. Typically, however, students complete the Diploma through a one-year programme of study.

Key issues for UK HE admissions

A single Tariff value may match a range of grade profiles. See section 4 of the Tariff tables (page 160) for full details:

Only Access to HE Diplomas started after September 2014 are eligible for UCAS Tariff points from the 2017 entry cycle.

Access to HE Diplomas are widely accepted by UK HEPs for admissions purposes. Access to HE Diplomas have been developed as qualifications for adults, to widen participation in higher education.

Timing of assessments/results for learners

The Access to HE Diploma is a unitised qualification, and its component units are assessed throughout the course.

However, unit achievement and grades are only confirmed after external moderation. Certificates of achievement and transcripts are usually issued by early August.

Results are made available via UCAS’ Awarding Body Linkage.

Qualification dates notes

This award is current.

Reporting and certification information

Approximately 20,000 students holding the Access to HE Diploma are accepted onto HE programmes each year.

Further information

QAA’s Access to HE website includes further information and advice for HE admissions staff about making offers to Access to HE students.

Further information about the grading scheme for Access to HE Diplomas is available at: