Skip main navigation

Compare and contrast

Factor to take into account when choosing where to study.
© University of Reading

In the previous Step, you looked at what HE is, but how does it compare to where you’re coming from? You’ll explore the differences between FE and HE in the comparison chart below.

Comparison table. Title: Further education versus Higher education: Looking at the differences between the two. Left hand side of the table are points for Further Education: Refers to education up to Level 3 and is typically taught in sixth forms or colleges. Typically aged 16 - 18 years old. Qualifications can include A Levels, BTEC Diploma’s, BTEC Extended Diploma’s, and Access courses. Level 3 courses that are offered in FE usually last for 2 years. Most FE courses are free. FE courses tend to be taught in small groups in classroom settings. Whilst studying FE, you'll have lots of contact hours with your tutors throughout the week, with minimal independent learning required. FE typically follows a strict curriculum. Directed study: To a certain extent, you're given the information you need for exams and assignments. Generally, people attend a place of FE close to home, which can often mean that you could be studying with people you already went to secondary school with. Sixth form or colleges have a smaller population. Sixth form or colleges tend to be in one or 2 buildings. FE offers limited range of activities and clubs. Right hand side of the table are points for Higher Education: Refers to education that's Level 4 upwards and is typically taught in universities and HEIs. Typically aged 18+. Qualifications can include foundation degrees, degrees, HND/HNC courses, postgraduate or professional qualifications at a high level. Course lengths in HE can vary depending on the subject. A typical undergraduate degree lasts for 3 or 4 years, but some can last up to 7. You have to pay tuition fees. HE courses tend to be taught across a range of settings from lectures (that can consist of hundreds of people), seminars and one-to-ones. At university you'll have fewer contact hours. You're expected to be self-motivated and do a lot of independent learning. HE doesn't follow a national curriculum and is based on the departments specialism and the lecturer’s areas of interest and expertise. Self directed study: You're only given background information. There's an emphasis on personal responsibility and you're encouraged to seek your own reading and research and to create your own arguments and analysis. Progressing into HE gives you the chance to expand your horizons and live in a new town or city, whilst meeting lots of new people. Universities tend to have a much bigger student population, ranging from approx. 1000 - over 150,000. Universities stretch across several buildings. Some universities are also across multiple locations. HE offers more options for social activities, societies and clubs.

What are the key differences in expectations of a student studying at FE and HE level? Share three differences in the comment area below.

© University of Reading
This article is from the free online

Your Essential Guide to University Life

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education