Options for Higher Education

Higher education offers a diverse range of courses and qualifications, such as degrees, higher national diplomas and foundation degrees. Many courses take place in universities, however at the College we offer a range of a range of Higher Level Apprenticeships (HLAs), Foundation Degrees, Higher National Certificates/Diplomas and Degree programmes to students who have completed A Levels or a Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma.

We also offer an Access to University course - this course provides mature students with an alternative route to progress to full-time and part-time higher education.  It offers an experience which is stimulating, varied and appropriate for adult learners.  This is a modularised course and is set at A Level standard.  The modularised structure offers greater flexibility and is particularly important for mature students who often have to fit their study around other commitments.



Higher National Certificates (HNC)
HNCs usually take one year to complete full-time and two years part-time.  They are highly valued by employers and can also count towards membership of professional bodies and other employer organisations.  You can convert your HNC to a HND and/or an Honours degree with extra study.


Higher National Diploma (HND)
It usually takes two years full-time study to complete a HND.  The course can sometimes be taken on a part-time basis but will take longer to complete.  HNDs are designed to give students the skills for a particular field of work.  They can lead straight to a career and can also be used to progress within a current career.  A HND can be converted to an Honours degree with extra study.

Higher Level Apprenticeships (HLAs)
A Higher Level Apprenticeship incorporates a work-based learning programme and leads to a nationally recognised qualification at Level 4 and above.

Foundation degree
Foundation degrees are higher education qualifications that combine academic and work related learning. They offer a route into employment, a way to progress within an existing job or the opportunity to re-skill in a new profession.  A Foundation degree is a recognised higher education qualification in its own right or upon completion, with appropriate grades, you may be eligible for exemption from the first year of a related degree programme at some Universities.

An Honours degree, sometimes known as an 'ordinary' or 'first' degree, is a course of academic study leading to a qualification such as a Bachelor of Arts (BA Hons) or Bachelor of Science (BSc Hons).  It usually takes three or four years to complete full-time and may take longer if being done on a part-time basis.  Students who have achieved an HND or a Foundation Degree in a relevant subject will sometimes be eligible to start part way into an Honours Degree.



Below shows the wide range of qualifications in a number of areas – choosing the right qualification is very important.

Qualification Equivalent to

Entry Level Certificates and Awards


BTEC Level 1 Certificate/Award


BTEC Level 2 Diploma
BTEC Level 2 Extended Certificate

Four GCSEs A*-C
Two GCSEs A*-C

BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma
QCF Level 3 NVQ Diploma
BTEC Level 3 Diploma
BTEC Level 3 90-Credit Diploma
BTEC Level 3 Subsidiary Diploma

Three GCE A Levels

Two GCE A Levels
1.5 GCE A Levels
One GCE A Level

BTEC Level 4 Higher National Certificate                                                                                          

Higher Level Apprenticeship

Certificates of Higher Education

BTEC Level 5 Higher National Diploma
Foundation Degrees
Diplomas of Higher Education


Honours Degrees
Graduate Certificates and Diplomas


Masters Degrees
Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas



(NQF/QCF Framework - Ofqual)

What are the benefits of attending Northern Regional College to complete your Higher Education course?

  • Quality teaching and learning.
  • You can remain living at home, hence limited travel expenses.
  • Many students need to keep their part-time job to either gain vital experience or fund their education.
  • Expenses are limited, due to extra costs being reduced such as rent, electricity and food. 
  • Northern Regional College offers students one-to-one contact within smaller classes and tutorial sessions, giving the student the attention they need to progress in their course.
  • The college offers students excellent levels of qualifications which can lead to entrance for Degree programmes at University (year 2) or employment.
  • The college has excellent industrial links with local, national and international employers who provide students with valuable presentations, visits and placement opportunities.
  • It's simpler to apply for a course – you can apply to NRC along with your other UCAS applications.  NRC does not operate through UCAS so this would be an extra application.
  • NRC Ulster University Student Associate Courses.

About Ulster University Associate Courses

By studying at a Partner College of the Ulster University on a UU programme in Northern Ireland or overseas, you will officially be an Ulster University Associate Student. As an Associate Student, you will be issued with a Ulster University student card, which will allow you to access a range of services and facilities at the University, including the Library and the Sports Centre. Each Ulster University course offered by Northern Regional College is clearly marked.

Benefits of Being a Ulster University Associate Student include:

  • Sports Centre Membership - As an Associate Student you are entitled to become a member of the Ulster University's Sports Centre at Coleraine, Jordanstown or Magee Campus. We have great fitness suites and a range of classes to help you Be Active, Be Involved and Be Outstanding! For more information, please visit www.sportsulster.com.
  • Library and Information Resources - As an Associate Student you will be able to consult and borrow library books in any of the University’s four libraries in Belfast, Coleraine, Jordanstown or Magee, and request access to electronic journals. For more information, please visit www.ulster.ac.uk/library.
  • In addition to the resources available at Ulster, you have a range of student rights available to you, such as the ability to make a complaint and the right to academic appeal. For more information on your student rights, please visit www.ulster.ac.uk/associatestudents.
  • Progression to the Ulster University - Graduation may feel a long way off but it is never too early to start thinking about your next steps. Ulster is proud of its relationship with NRC and your course. You may already know about progression to our degree programmes, if not, ask your Course Director or visit Ulster University online. The University’s website has a full list of Foundation Degree and Access Diplomas and the Honours Degree courses they are linked to. Find out more at www.ulster.ac.uk/associatestudents.

Other Options For 18+

If you are 18+ and have been out of education, you may still be eligible to apply for one of our full-time vocational courses – click here to view courses.
All Higher Education courses require an interview, and you must complete a Higher Education Application Form. You can complete this online.

At the College we understand the growing significance of STEM education in our everyday society.  We offer a number of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) related subjects at Level 4 and above.

All our STEM courses offer various opportunities to students.  In particular, students on the HND engineering programme may be eligible for some funding sources available through a number of organisations linked with the engineering department at the College, such as:

Study USA Programme
Students at the college can stand out from the crowd by studying for one academic year in the USA.  Study USA (SUSA) is a scholarship to study business related subjects at a US College for one academic year.  The programme is administered by the Department for Employment and Learning and delivered by the British Council.  Study USA aims to equip Northern Irish students with international experience and essential business skills, and to raise the profile of Northern Ireland in the United States.

Over 200 participating colleges across the USA offer fully funded places worth $25000 covering travel, accommodation, books, meals etc.

STEM Scholarships
STEM students are matched with employers for scholarships and can receive a contribution towards their Higher Education fees. Over the duration of the course, they have the opportunity to increase their skills and knowledge, and build relationships with their employer by working with them during the summer holidays and in their industrial placement year.

Royal Academy Engineering Grants
The Academy works with partners to ensure that more young people study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in schools, FE colleges and universities. They offer a range of professional development grants or awards, as well as funding options for students wishing to develop themselves professionally. These may suit students who are already employed and studying on part-time programmes.

Sponsored Higher Education (HE) Engineering Programme
The aim is to offer full-time Sponsored HE Engineering opportunities for students pursuing a career in either Manufacturing or Electrical/Electronic Engineering. Places can be offered by participating companies.

IMechE (Institution of Mechanical Engineers)
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is the fastest growing professional engineering institution in the UK. Its 100,000 members work at the heart of the country’s most important and dynamic industries. NRC has been approved by IMechE and students are offered the opportunity to become members to enhance their future engineering careers.

HEA logo QAA Review Graphic thumbnail