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What is the difference between HNC and HND?

Difference between HNC and HND?

Your higher education is one of the most important chapters in your life and determining the best approach could be a very daunting task. After all, your entire future and career depends on the path you choose after completing school. There’s an abundance of options available to you upon completion of your school years, and two of the most popular routes are either an HNC or HND. They may sound very similar but there are some key differences between a Higher National Certificate and a Higher National Diploma that you’d need to consider.

What is a Higher National Certificate (HNC)?

HNC stands for Higher National Certificate and is a qualification awarded by Edexcel in England and a Higher National awarded by the SQA in Scotland. A Higher National Certificate is an industry-specific pathway that is a very popular choice for school-leavers looking to fast-track their way into a career and save time that would be otherwise spent on a length y degree, and for good reason too. This is because they are highly regarded by companies, large and small, throughout the world. An HNC focuses more on practical aspects rather than theory, preparing candidates for their careers in a fairly short time span. HNC’s are very streamlined and tailored towards very specific jobs and the duties associated with them.

What is a Higher National Diploma (HND)?

An HND is also work-related, and specific to various career-pathways and roles within organisations. Practical and streamlined, this is a step up from a Higher National Certificate, as they dig deeper and generally take two years to complete, unless you choose to do it part-time – in which, in that case may take three to four years depending on the pathway. In most part of the world, an HND is considered equivalent to two years at a university, while some organisations would even consider such a qualification as equivalent to a degree, given that they’re industry-focused and involve learning through means that are more practical than theoretical.

How do BTEC HNC and HND Courses Differ?

BTEC courses are renowned by employers worldwide and both a BTEC HND and the less comprehensive BTEC HNC qualifications would carry weight, but there are some differences to consider.


First, let’s establish what they have in common. Both these courses are provided by higher education institutions and are focused on practical skills instead and places less emphasis on arduous theoretical learning, to bestow students what they’d need to embark on their career.

The most easily distinguishable difference between the two qualifications is duration. It takes considerably less time to complete an HNC than it takes to obtain an HND. It takes twice as long to achieve the latter.


Where qualification value is concerned, and HNC is lower than its counterpart by one level. On the QCF, the Qualifications and Credit Framework, an HNC is considered a level 4 qualification, while an HND is a level 5. Put simply, the prior is equivalent to studying one year at university while the latter is equal to two. Completing the certificate enables you to pursue the diploma, but completing the diploma makes the certificate redundant. A diploma would also carry more weight with employers than the certificate level qualification.

What are the benefits of an HNC or HND?

One of the main reasons why school-leavers choose an HNC is that it allows them to decide on a degree. This allows them to avoid the many implications undergraduates face when they choose to change their major halfway into their respective degrees.


The short time span of an HNC, of just one-year, can be ideal in many ways. Instead of choosing to take a gap year, school-leavers can gain a range of skillsets that will not only prepare them directly for a career, but also give them a strong advantage if they choose an undergraduate degree afterwards. In most countries, an HNC is considered an equivalent to one year of university. This means that modules that have been covered in your higher national certificate can be skipped if pursuing an undergraduate degree along the same stream.


The above is the same where an HND is concerned but given its comprehensive nature means that the benefits associated with it also follow suit. An individual can choose to embark on a career pathway immediately after completing their higher national diploma, and should they wish to pursue a degree afterwards, they can save time and money by skipping two years entering the degree at the third year. It can be further calibrated if the candidate has considerable work experience.

How an HND can Help Your Chosen Career?

Both an HND as well as an HNC involve practical learning, which means that only the most applicable methods and techniques would be emphasised, devoid of theoretical concepts that might be dated in the rapidly developing business world that is becoming more digital than ever. Through group-based learning, students can experience first-hand what it’s like to work with people of different backgrounds and walks of life, preparing them for situations that will inevitably arise during their respective careers.

A Higher National Diploma is a popular choice among adults, although many would choose to do them part-time instead of full-time. Nevertheless, there will inevitably be a wide range of demographics in any batch where HNDs are concerned. These courses also work as great supplements for professionals to utilise when they want to explore a different area or add to their wealth of knowledge. Given how affordable HNDs are compared to full-blown degrees, it allows school-leavers to focus on building their fortitude of knowledge, as well as their fortune, without having to potentially accumulate debt.

Exploring and going on Further Studies

Although many students choose an HND program as a catalyst to embarking on a career, many make the decision as a steppingstone to a degree, especially if they’re somewhat unsure of a major. Following the completion of their HND program, if they choose to pursue further study, they would be able to begin their degree from the third year onwards. It would still mean four years of higher study, but the benefits are in the money they would save.


Should they decide to change their degree pathway, they still end up with a wide range of skills and key knowledge in an industry that is either additional to their major, or one that complements it. This makes it something close to a win-win situation.


A part-time HND program is one of the most popular methods for students to cover more areas of knowledge and supplement their educational fortitude. Many can pursue their higher studies while working part-time jobs, or pursuing a major in a degree more in-tune with their career choice. For example, many students are passionate about fitness but would seek a career in something very different, such as business management. They would choose to do an HND in sports science, to feed their passion, while pursuing an undergraduate degree in business.

Should I Top up my HND Studies?

The benefits of obtaining an HND are numerous, but upon completion, should they top up their diploma to a degree before embarking on a career? In many cases, HND graduates can be entitled to enrol for the final year of a degree programme. This is quite common if the HND is of a high standard or if the student has demonstrated exceptional talent during their diploma. This enables students to be considered fully qualified to contribute to an organisation within the role they wish to pursue.


An HND qualification is widely recognised by employers, but there’s still a disparity where a degree is concerned. Students would be able to easily find employment in many hands-on roles, but they won’t be considered qualified for graduate-level jobs. This can also be easily rectified by combining the HND with a conversion course that will allow the student to start their career at a higher level, or even skip ahead and begin a master’s degree. Should they take this route, they will save both time and money, and end up with a postgraduate degree at an earlier age than usual, but it might cost them the chance to gain work experience.


Although it is not common, there are some institutions that would consider allowing students to embark on a master’s degree program depending on their HND qualifications. Some entities such as National Air Traffic Services, NATS, allow HND holders into their structured development programmes.

Funding for a Top-Up Degree

When it comes to government-funding for students, one can only apply for the first qualification. This means, that if you plan on following your HND and topping it up by sitting for the final year for an undergraduate with a top-up degree, the government would only cover the HND, since the undergraduate portion is considered a second degree.
It is however always worth checking with your preferred institution since high-performing students can receive a wide variety of financial assistance such as grants and scholarships. There are many options where student finance is concerned, but these depend on factors such as residential status, age and nationality. You can refer to the online student finance calculator to determine your eligibility.

Regent College London offers a range of higher education courses to help you develop your skills set and progression in your chosen career path. To find out more about our HND’s and other courses click here.