Skip main navigation

What is Higher Education?

What is Higher Education? In this article, we discuss what it means and we provide a brief overview of what it involves.
Birds-eye view of University of Reading campus showing buildings surrounded by trees and green spaces.
© University of Reading

The UK education system is made up of various levels – Primary, Secondary, Further, and Higher. Higher Education (HE) is the highest level in the education system and is, for many, the next step after school or college.

Who can go?

In short, anyone who has achieved Level 3 qualifications (A-levels, BTEC Level 3, NVQ Level 3) can access HE. A huge variety of people from different backgrounds and ages participate in HE and, with the range of options available, there’s something for everyone no matter what, where, and how you want to study.

How do students choose?

Some students will have a clear idea of what they’d like to do in the future and will choose an option that helps them realise their future goals. Others will pick a subject that they’re good at or that they enjoy. Either way, it’s important to do your research and make an informed decision. There are a number of factors involved in choosing the right option for you:

Each Higher Education Institute (which include universities and Further Education colleges) is different and are generally either campus or city-based.

The campus is where everything (teaching facilities, accommodation, shops, sports facilities) is all in one place. Whereas city HEIs are more spread out and are normally in the heart of the city.

Each type of qualification is different

  • Degrees involve you studying a subject for three years (or more – dependent on the subject) with a focus on developing academic knowledge and skills.
  • Degree apprenticeships combine study with work. You’ll still study at university for three years and complete a degree, but you’ll also work alongside it. This provides you with opportunities to gain relevant work experience.
  • Higher National Diplomas (HND) and Higher National Certificates (HNC) are vocational qualifications that focus on preparing students for employment with more practical teaching and learning.

Every subject course is different

HE is very different to secondary and FE in terms of subject content. For example, if you study Psychology at college, other people studying Psychology at different colleges will experience a very similar course.

In HE, however, the same subject courses can differ from institution to institution. You may be studying the same subject as someone else at a different HEI, but the content, types of assessment, teaching, and support will vary.

It’s important to do your research and find a course that suits your interests and your learning preferences. Make sure you read what’s on offer and don’t be shy to ask questions.

Speech bubble that reads: UoR tip

If you’re still deciding about university – think about the place, the people, and the opportunities open to you beyond studying. Considering these factors will ensure that you have a great experience both during and beyond your studies. Write down any ideas for researching in your action plan.

A green page break

We want to mention that HE is only one pathway after finishing school. There are many options out there to choose from. Explore what’s available, as you might surprise yourself with what you find.

© University of Reading
This article is from the free online

Your Essential Guide to University Life

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now