What are higher technical qualifications?

Higher technical qualifications are qualifications at level 4 and 5, for example:

  • higher national certificates (HNCs)
  • higher national diplomas (HNDs)
  • foundation degrees

The qualifications sit between A levels and T Levels at level 3 and bachelor’s degrees at level 6.  Most of these are technical and focus on progression into skilled employment. They also need a learner to gain significant technical knowledge and practical skills valued by employers.

There is clear and growing employer demand for the skills at these levels. For students, there are good economic outcomes for completing higher technical courses. However, participation is low compared to other levels of education and compared to other countries. In England, only 1 in 10 people have a level 4 or 5 as their highest qualification.

The government published its plans for the future of higher technical education at level 4 and 5 in England. It sets out the government’s ambition for increasing the take up of higher technical education at level 4 and 5 in England to boost the supply of much-needed skills and raise productivity and prosperity. To achieve this, by ensuring level 4 and 5 meet employer needs. As well as making them a more popular choice by showing that they are high-quality courses.

What is the Institute’s Role?

We will put in place a new approvals process for level 4 to 5 qualifications. We will compare the qualifications to apprenticeship standards that employers have developed and which set out the knowledge, skills and behaviours someone needs to be competent in their occupation. Where a qualification enables a learner to attain as many of these requirements as possible, we will approve it. Once approved we will apply a quality mark to make this clear to employers and learners.  

Digital Route

In the first year, our focus will be only on digital qualifications, leading to occupations like network engineer, cyber-security technologist and software developer. We will compare the qualifications to the updated digital apprenticeship standards at level 4 and 5 which have been subject to our recent route review. We are currently finalising these and we will publish them on our website. We are also running a series of webinars running in July 2020 to introduce the new content to interested parties. These include:

The following three apprenticeships will not change, following our review:

We will approve higher technical qualifications against these new occupational standards, rather than the occupational standards currently in delivery, as they are more current and reflective of employer needs. Cyber intrusion analyst (level 4) (ST0114) and unified communications troubleshooter (ST0131) were merged with other occupational standards during the review. These currently remain in delivery but are not available for the approval of higher technical qualifications.

When will higher technical qualifications start?

The first qualifications will be available from September 2022 for the digital route. They will provide progression opportunities for students starting the first T Levels, in September 2020. We will then look at qualifications for construction, and health and science routes which will be available from 2023. We will publish a schedule setting out the approval for the remaining routes soon.

Approvals Process

The approvals process will be voluntary for awarding bodies. There will be incentives to submit qualifications, such as the government-backed brand and quality mark to clearly identify approved qualifications. As with our current approvals processes for apprenticeships and T Levels, employers will be at the centre of decision-making.

We want the process to be clear, work for users and to gain the confidence of employers and learners. For the first digital approval process, we expect to work collaboratively with awarding bodies and our partners (Ofqual and Office for Students) to learn lessons for future waves.  

We will provide full details of the approval process to interested awarding organisations and universities when we open for submission of qualifications in September.