Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 22 September, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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Foundation degree

core definition

A foundation degree is an intermediary (sub-degree) qualification in the UK designed in conjunction with employers to meet skills shortages at the higher technician level.

explanatory context

Foundation Degrees were controversial when introduced in the UK in 2001 because they are only equivalent to the first two years (two-thirds) of a UK undegraduate degree (a level that would normally be referred to as diploma level rather than degree level). However, they are now well established. Foundation degrees are designed in conjunction with employers to meet skills shortages at the higher technician and associate professional levels. They are offered by universities in partnership with higher education colleges and further education colleges.  Flexible study methods make them available to people already in work,  unemployed people, or those wanting to embark on a career change. On successful completion foundation degree graduates may choose to progress to further professional qualifications or to an honours degree. Foundation degree students study for 240 credits.  An honours degree is 360 credits.

The Directgov website advises students:

Foundation Degrees are designed to equip you for a particular area of work – as well as giving you the general skills that are useful in any type of job.
They're university-level qualifications, like other degrees. But Foundation Degree courses are designed with a particular area of work in mind, with the help of employers from that sector. Typically, you'll get the chance to learn in the workplace as well as the classroom. And because it's often possible to study flexibly, in a way that suits you. So whether you're looking to change job, return to work or boost your career prospects, Foundation Degrees offer a route into higher education for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Foundation degrees should not be confused with foundation programmes, which are an introduction to degree-level work and operate as a preceding year to degree study.

Foundation degrees are similar to associate degrees in the United States although the latter do not have the same requird employer involvement as foundation degrees.

analytical review

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE ) (undated) states:

Foundation degrees are two-year higher education qualifications that were first offered in 2001–02. They are designed to meet skills shortages at the higher technician and associate professional levels. Foundation degrees are one level below the honours degree.

For the Graduate Recruitment Bureau ( 2011):

Foundation degree: A vocational degree, which is two years full-time or three years if taken as a sandwich course. A foundation degree can lead straight on to a first degree, which could be completed in twelve months. Entry requirements are at least one A level (or equivalent) or a vocational qualification at level 3, e.g. NVQ.

Directgov (2011) state:

Foundation Degrees are higher education qualifications that combine academic study with work-based learning. Designed jointly by universities, colleges and employers, they are available in a range of work-related subjects.


An institutional view is provided by the University of the Arts London (2005)

Foundation Degrees were launched in 2000, with the first courses offered in September 2001. The courses were developed to respond to the needs of the employment market and to fill the skills gap.

The distinctive features of Foundation Degrees include:

·        The award of a degree after two years of study 

·        A close relationship with industry

·        An emphasis on work-based learning

·        Students are prepared for employment in the relevant industry through vocationally specific curricula, development of employment skills and personal and professional development

·        Opportunities to progress to Honours Degree level, where appropriate, after the completion of a bridging programme.


The University of Portsmouth (undated) similarly states:

Foundation degrees are:

·        vocationally linked higher education qualifications

·        developed in collaboration with employers, such as the NHS

·        provide specialist technical knowledge and skills within specific fields

·        can be delivered in a variety of ways, via the internet, distance learning and direct through universities, or linked to Further Education colleges and Higher Education colleges under a lead university

·        allow progression to an honours degree

·        awarded by the lead university

allow flexible learning (work-based, work-related and distance learning)

They aim to provide students with specific business, technical and specialist skills needed in the workplace.

In answer to the question ‘What is a BTEC Foundation Degree?’ Edexcel (2005) notes:

The BTEC Foundation Degree is a new qualification designed to act as a stepping-stone to a full university degree….There are two types of BTEC Foundation Degree – one is validated locally and one is validated by Edexcel through its university and college partners.

In answer to the question ‘What is a foundation degree?’ the UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA, undated) states:

The foundation degree integrates academic and work-based learning through close collaboration between employers and programme providers. It builds upon a long history of design and delivery of vocational qualifications in higher education. Foundation degrees are vocationally focused and equip learners with the skills and knowledge relevant to their employment and the needs of employers. They also provide a pathway for life-long learning and the opportunity to progress to other qualifications.

Work-based learning is central to the foundation degree. Learning at work takes many forms and serves a variety of purposes. When designing a foundation degree it is important that the work-based learning is appropriate to the sector or type of employer.

In a foundation degree programme academic knowledge and understanding will reinforce and support the development of vocational skills with appropriate academic rigour. … The coherence and integrity of a foundation degree programme comes from the planned integration of work-based skills and academic learning. …

The distinctive features of a foundation degree are highlighted in the awarding institution's normal approval and review procedures for programmes. Employer representatives are involved in the design and regular review of foundation degree programmes.

The distinctiveness of the foundation degree can be found in the integration of the following characteristics: accessibility; articulation and progression; employer involvement; flexibility; and partnership. While none of these attributes are unique to foundation degrees, their clear and planned integration within a single award underpinned by work-based learning makes the award highly distinctive.

associated issues

The QAA also elaborates on foundation degrees as follows:

The foundation degree provides a new model of vocational higher education based on close collaboration between employers and providers of higher education. It aims to widen and increase participation in higher education by delivering knowledge and skills needed for employment by the application of work-based and flexible modes of learning.

The QAA also note:

Under the terms of the Bologna Declaration the foundation degree does not fulfil the requirements of an award to terminate the first cycle. Such an award should last a minimum of 3 years full-time and may provide entry to master’s or doctoral degrees. In the UK the bachelor's degree with honours normally indicates completion of the first cycle. In The framework for higher education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland the foundation degree is located at the Intermediate level.

related areas

See also

associate degree

foundation programme


Directgov, 2011, Education and Learning: Foundation Degrees available at, accessed 20 July 2012, page archived and not available 3 January 2017.

Edexcel, 2005, Advancing learning, changing lives,, page not available 15 October 2012.

Graduate Recruitment Bureau, 2012, Glossary, accessed 20 July 2012, still available 26 June 2019.

Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), undated, Glossary, available at, accessed 31 December 2016, not available 20 June 2019.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), undated, Foundation degree: qualification benchmark (final draft),, accessed May 2005, no available 10 October 2012.

University of Portsmouth (undated), What is a foundation degree?,, page no longer available at this address, 5 February 2011.

Univeristy of the Arts, London, 2005, London College of Fashion, Prospective Students, What is a Foundation Degree,, page no longer available at this address, 5 February 2011.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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