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Higher Education Vs Further Education. What’s The Difference?

25 Apr 2019

Maybe you can opt for higher education (HE), while some students will go for further education (FE). But this does not make your chose any lesser. Distinguishing between higher education vs further education can be confusing. To make an informed decision between the two requires you to know the differences and the components of each. The key difference, however, is inclined towards the contribution that each plays towards your career path. For instance, HE is instrumental and necessary for your choice career while FE can be a course totally different from the career you wish to pursue. For example, your career path could be in the medical field but your interest in politics and historical events pushes you to take a political science course.

What is the Difference between Further Education and Higher Education?

The dynamic and unfamiliarity of the British education system can be hard to navigate for most international students. A major source of confusion is the thin line that separates higher learning from further learning. Which one is the most preferred or which one is the quickest route to earning a degree? Which of the two systems gives the best learning experience? These are some of the dilemmas around higher or further education discussions that we seek to put clear.  

What Is Higher Education (HE)?

Higher learning (also known as post-secondary, tertiary or third level learning) is a post compulsory education stage of formal learning held with high regards among the best universities in the UK. Universities, colleges, academies, seminaries, institutes of technology, and conservatories constitute the formal centers for HE. HE culminates into the award of professional certification including professional degrees.

This qualifies some college-level institutions including trade schools, vocational schools, and other career colleges to award professional certification as institutions of higher learning.

HE at a degree level lasts a minimum of 3 years, but 4 is the most typical. It is a level of learning with theoretical underpinning and serves to prepare learners for professional practice in the field of their study. It’s also characterized by advanced research activity.

Higher Education Qualifications

Distinctive qualifications within the higher learning domain include undergraduate degrees, honors degrees, postgraduate diplomas, Master’s degrees and Doctorates.

A bachelor’s degree (undergraduate degree) is usually conferred for a course or major that takes generally 3 to 4 years to complete.

A Master’s degree is usually awarded on completion of a postgraduate program whose duration ranges from 1 to 3 years. One can be awarded a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). For students in the United Kingdom, you can earn a Master’s in an undergraduate course whose final year comprises of high-level courses and a major research project.

A doctorate is an academic degree of the highest level, earning the graduate equal recognition as the university faculty under which he/she studied.

What Is Further Education?

Tertiary learning offered at a non-degree level is known as further learning or continuing education. This comprises of any other study after secondary school which is not part of graduate and undergraduate programs.

Further Education Qualifications

Further education UK qualifications are mainly based on preparation to seek a job or preparation for university admission. These qualifications are divided into four sections, academic, applied learning, functional skills, and technical qualifications.

UK academic qualifications include A-levels, Cambridge Pre-Us, Baccalaureates, Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and Interdisciplinary Projects, and GCSEs. Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers are also other academic qualifications that Scotland students, as well as any students in the UK and Ireland, can access.

Technical vocational qualifications include NVQ and SVQ technical levels. technical certificates, and TechBac.

Functional skill qualifications can be achieved as part of the traineeship, apprenticeship or study program.

What are the Key Differences?

So what makes the key difference between higher and further learning? FE or HE which is the best? Let’s consider the focus and the outcome of each form of learning. FE education refers to a more relaxed learning experience where you can pursue programs of your choice at any stage of life, usually to gain new skills or pursue hobbies such as cake decorating, learning a new language, providing assignment writing service or whichever field that is not part your career path. HE is geared towards providing students with knowledge that is instrumental in the chosen career path.


FE is a learning level above the secondary level but below HE. It’s taught at a college of Further Education that offers training studies in short certificate and diploma courses.

HE, on the other hand, is achieved in universities in terms of undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs.


FE focuses on providing learners with skills that are necessary for the industry. The knowledge supplied is higher than at the secondary level but lower on a higher learning scale.

HE tends to be theoretical. Students in higher learning institutions receive professional training during their study.

Duration of Study

The period of study varies with the courses you pursue at the FE colleges.

4 years is a typical duration for degree programs in higher learning institutions. A few variations exist depending on the subject stream you follow.  

Educational Institutions

FE is offered at Further Education colleges.

HE is taught at universities and colleges.

Entry Requirements

Further learning enrolment requires you to have completed your compulsory schooling level.

To enroll for higher learning you need to complete your 10+2 exams


An FE student can easily land a job after their program but salaries are relatively lower than those for higher learning graduates.

FE can also be preparation for HE

The chances of landing a job tend to be higher for HE graduates although this is heavily determined by the hiring managers. The higher learning system is notably elaborate in terms of scholarships for international students in the UK and as long as you have met the requirements, you can enroll to take up the course of your choice.

Common Questions about Further and Higher Education

Is A Level Further Education Or Higher Education? 

Levels are a form of FE. Levels tend to stick with providing a learning experience that is academic.

Is Sixth Form Further Education Or Higher Education?

The sixth form is a level of FE. FE is usually offered in the sixth form in school, independent FE colleges, and other work-based adult and community learning centers.  

Is University Higher Or Further Education?

University education is a higher learning level.

What Age Is Further Education?

According to the UK schooling system, students enter the further learning stage at the age of 16 years, usually immediately after the compulsory learning stage. This is the age when a scholar is free to start working or to pursue higher education or vocational training.

What Counts As Higher Education

HE is a third level education offered at universities and FE colleges. It’s usually characterized by undergraduate and postgraduate study. It takes into account any tertiary study that has culminated into conferment of professional certification.   

Further Education or Higher Education: What to Choose?

If you are still lost in deciding whether to choose further or higher education, it’s essential to reconsider your priorities. If you choose to start with further learning, you can always work your way up to HE. For FE, you can take up level 2 and 3 courses. On the other hand, HE is offered in universities and colleges and can be categorized into undergraduate or postgraduate.

For any potential student seeking entry into one of the best universities in the UK, basic knowledge of the UK learning system precedes making a well-informed decision. You have the option to choose between higher education or further education.  HE is directly linked to your career path while FE is a program of your choice that you can pursue at any stage of your life. The UK has a global reputation as an international center of academic excellence making it the best choice for any prospective student meeting the minimum entry requirements.

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