Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP)

Last updated
Last verified
  • Scotland

A Scottish Wider Access Programme is a course of study which prepares adults, with few or no formal qualifications, for study at university.

Education context

SWAP is a partnership organisation between higher and further education (FE) providers in Scotland. There are two regional offices. SWAP East is based in Edinburgh, and SWAP West is based in Glasgow.

SWAP access programmes represent the majority of access to higher education courses in Scotland.

There are other access courses, including university access courses validated by individual HEPs (including Stirling, Strathclyde, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow and St Andrews).

SWAP programmes are delivered and validated by FE colleges, and overseen by the SWAP partnership.

To be SWAP approved, access programmes must follow certain criteria.

Awarding organisation
  • FE and HE partners

SWAP has the following HE partners:

  • The University of Aberdeen
  • The University of Abertay, Dundee
  • The University of Dundee
  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • The University of Edinburgh
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Glasgow School of Art
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
  • University of Glasgow
  • The Open University Scotland
  • Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
  • Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (formerly RSAMD)
  • Scotland's Rural University College
  • The University of St Andrews
  • University of Stirling
  • University of Strathclyde
  • University of West of Scotland

SWAP East has the following FE partners:

  • Borders College
  • Dundee and Angus College
  • Edinburgh College
  • Fife College
  • Forth Valley College
  • Newbattle Abbey College
  • Perth College
  • West Lothian College

SWAP West has the following FE partners:

  • Ayrshire College
  • City of Glasgow College
  • Dumfries & Galloway College
  • Forth Valley College
  • Glasgow Clyde College
  • Glasgow Kelvin College
  • New College Lanarkshire
  • South Lanarkshire College
  • West College Scotland

As a Scottish qualification, units are a different size to English access courses.

All SWAP access programmes have a minimum of 18 units (but may be up to 20 units), of which nine or more must be at Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework (SCQF) Level 6.

Each course includes at least five mandatory units in communication (three units), IT and maths validated by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Courses also include two mandatory ‘Preparation for HE’ units (these are SCQF Level 6 and are developed by SWAP partnerships).

Other optional modules, from a variety of subjects (not necessarily from the area of specialisation) are then selected from an approved list and agreed on a yearly basis by the SWAP partnership to reach the minimum of 18 – 20 units of the programme.

The content of a SWAP access programme is determined by the subject focus of the title, so that students acquire knowledge and develop academic skills relevant to the intended progression route.

The curriculum detail of the SWAP is determined at partnership level.

HE representatives with expertise in appropriate subject areas are involved in the development and validation of all programmes.

Subject areas

SWAP offers courses in the following broad subject areas:

  • Engineering
  • Humanities / arts and social sciences
  • Humanities / business
  • Humanities / community education
  • Humanities / primary education
  • Humanities / languages
  • Humanities / social work
  • Law, business and finance
  • Medical studies, includes medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry and pharmacy
  • Nursing
  • Science / biological / biomedical / health and life sciences
  • Science / science, technology, engineering and mathematics

SWAP course titles share a common format, which reflects the intended progression route, e.g. Access to Nursing, Access to Social work.

  • SCQF Level 6

SCQF Level 6 (equivalent to Level 3 in England, Northern Ireland and Wales).

SWAP programmes are regarded as comparable with the achievement of Scottish Highers grades A to C.


All units are assessed on a pass / fail basis in accordance with SQA processes.

Students need to pass 18 units to achieve the qualification.

In addition, access students are graded on a scale AAA – CCC by partnership colleges against an agreed set of grade descriptors.

These criteria relate to learning skills highly valued for HE progression, although in science subjects these include subject-specific skills and knowledge.

Partnership colleges submit the grade profile to SWAP at the end of the programme, and these are provided by SWAP to UCAS.


Units are assessed by the appropriate SQA processes and procedures.

Students are assessed during and on the completion of individual units.

Access students often take units from SQA Highers but are not required to undertake the external assessment.

Modes of assessment must be appropriate to the academic discipline and the progression route, but particular assignment details are locally determined.

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

Students have to meet SQA assessment requirements in order to pass units.

However, grading is based on performance across the course, and on criteria agreed by SWAP partners and assessments undertaken by delivery colleges.

The student’s grade profile is sent by FE partners where they studied, and recorded by SWAP.

Resit arrangements

Where students have not passed SQA Higher units, these can be resubmitted in accordance with SQA regulations.

Guided/notional learning hours notes

SWAPs are one year full-time.

As a Scottish qualification, credits / units are sized differently from England.

Broadly speaking, the academic content of the SWAP course is regarded as equivalent in size to three to four Scottish Highers. In addition to this, SWAP students undertake other mandatory units.

Each SQA unit equates to six SCQF credit points and each credit point is equivalent to 10 hours of learning, hence 60 hours per unit. An access course of 18 units therefore equates to 1,080 notional hours of learning.

Please note, the above is a general position regarding access programmes. Programmes of a more specialist nature (for example, access to STEM and medical studies) have additional units included within the programme.

UCAS size bands

Not yet available.

UCAS grade bands

Not yet available.

Key issues for UK HE admissions

SWAP programmes courses are widely accepted for progression to higher education across Scotland.

Timing of assessments/results for learners

Higher examinations are taken from late April to mid-June.

SQA results are published in early August.

SWAP grade profile results are sent to universities in July.

Qualification dates notes

This award is current.

Reporting and certification information

There are around 1,400 SWAP students in Scotland in any one cohort.

Since the launch of SWAP in 1987/8, more than 30,000 adults have taken the SWAP route to return to study.

For more information on certification, please contact SWAP offices.

Further information

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

SWAPEast: 0131 650 6861 (Edinburgh and the East of Scotland) email: [email protected]

SWAPWest: 0141 564 7206 (Glasgow and the West of Scotland) email: [email protected]