SQA National Certificate


National Certificates are not the standard entry requirement for Scottish applicants to Scottish universities, but are used for entry to short-cycle higher education (HE), such as Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Higher National Diplomas (HNDs), offered in some Scottish HEPs. Some universities also consider them – usually alongside some achievement at Higher – for entry to certain HE programmes.

National Certificates also provide access to employment, further education, and training.

National Certificates are aligned to National Occupational Standards (NOS).

National Certificates are aimed at developing students’ knowledge, understanding, and where appropriate, practical experience of a given area of vocational education.

The aim is to provide a solid basis for progression into further education and training, as well as higher education, while developing a more mature approach to study that will help sustain success in modern apprenticeships and HNC/HND study and beyond.


This qualification is ungraded and is awarded upon candidates achieving a Pass in each of the units required to successfully complete the qualification.

The flexibility of National Certificates enables National Courses, such as Higher or certain graded units, to be included in their structure. Graded achievement from component National Courses is not, and should not, be taken as a proxy for the overall qualification.


Unit assessment may be undertaken at the end of each unit, or through holistic or combined assessment across two or more units.

Unit assessment is marked by the teacher or lecturer, and is not graded. It is subject to internal verification in the centre, and to rigorous external quality assurance by SQA.

Units are assessed according to the Conditions of Assessment appropriate to the subject the level.

Where appropriate, some units are assessed through methods such as an assignment, practical activities, performance, or portfolio evidence.

Where a National Course – such as a Higher – is included in a specific National Certificate, course assessment arrangements are explained in the QIP for Highers.

The unit specifications stipulate the nature of unit assessment, and are available on the Unit Search, along with information on the Group Award.

Further information

For National Certificates at SCQF Level 6, there are three UCAS Tariff points bands – Bands A, B, and C, which are based on the minimum amount of SCQF credit points required to achieve each of the individual Group Awards. Band A includes National Certificates, where between 50-64% of credit points at SCQF Level 6 or higher are required to achieve the qualification. For Band B, it is 65-79%, and Band C 80-100%. At the development stage of each National Certificate subject, the minimum amount of credit points at SCQF Level 6 or above required to achieve the qualification is determined. Many students may achieve their National Certificate with a higher proportion of the minimum in the band range. SQA updates UCAS annually with any additional National Certificates or changes to existing subjects, which UCAS subsequently publishes on its online Tariff tables.

Few candidates apply to undergraduate degree study directly with a National Certificate at SCQF Level 6, unless it is taken as part of a wider programme of learning, including Highers. However, for progression to short-cycle HE, such as HNC and HND, it is a well-established pathway in Scotland. Many of these students will then enter undergraduate degree study directly into the second or third year at Scottish HEPs with their HNC or HND. A smaller number will apply with their HNC or HND from Scotland to HEPs in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

Some students – particularly if taking National Certificates at school – will take them alongside Highers. Also, other students will have taken Highers at school prior to studying for a National Certificate at a tertiary college. There is, therefore, likely to be a relatively mixed pattern of qualifications for applicants to HEPs who hold a National Certificate.

Under CfE, there is an enhanced emphasis on ensuring students undertake their learning journey and the qualifications and assessment which support it, at a pace which best meets their needs, allowing them some personalisation and choice in the overall curriculum they engage with. As such, different patterns of provision and attainment are likely to emerge among students.

SQA’s Group Award and Unit specifications and other supporting documentation for each Award subject are available at: www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/41280.2540.html

SQA’s website is: www.sqa.org.uk

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) website is available at: www.scqf.org.uk