Higher Technical Qualifications are level 4 or 5 qualifications that have been quality marked by the Institute to indicate their alignment to employer-led occupational standards. New or existing level 4 or 5 qualifications submitted to the Institute’s approvals process will receive a quality-mark if the qualification satisfies our approvals criteria. Higher Technical Qualifications align to existing occupational standards, providing learners with entry-level competence and allowing them to enter their chosen profession or progress onto higher education.

Purpose of Reforms

There is a growing demand for skills at levels 4 and 5 from employers and students. The number of learners taking qualifications at level 4 and 5 is low compared to other countries and other levels of education.

In July 2020, the government published its plans for the future of higher technical education at level 4 and 5 in England. These plans set out the government’s ambition to increase the number of learners at level 4 and 5, and the supply of much-needed skills, to raise productivity and prosperity. This will be achieved through three key reforms:

  • ensuring qualifications are prestigious and meet employer needs through an Institute-led national approvals process backed by a new quality mark for level 4 and 5 qualifications
  • ensuring that courses and providers delivering the approved qualifications are high-quality
  • developing level 4 and 5 qualifications as an attractive choice for learners and employers. This includes raising the profile and understanding of higher technical education courses through the quality-mark, a communications campaign and improvements to information, advice, and guidance

The Department for Education’s Role

The Department for Education is responsible for developing the policy for the reforms to higher technical education and qualification funding. The department also has responsibility for increasing the prestige of higher technical provision through the promotion of the quality-mark and communications material, as well as through improving information, advice, and guidance.

The Institute’s Role

The Institute is an independent, employer-led organisation with a vision for a world-leading technical education system that equips people from all backgrounds for skilled occupations, contributing to increased economic productivity. Our core purpose is to develop, approve, review, and where necessary, revise high-quality apprenticeships and technical education with employers.

For Higher Technical Qualifications, we have put in place an employer-led approvals process, building on our experience and expertise of approving apprenticeships and T Levels. We will compare the qualifications submitted to employer-designed occupational standards which set out the knowledge, skills and behaviours an individual should achieve to be deemed competent in an occupation. Where a qualification is aligned to the standard, meets any relevant regulatory requirements, and provides the knowledge, skills and behaviours for entry into the occupation it will be approved by the Institute to use the quality mark.  

The approval of Higher Technical Qualifications will initially be organised on a route-by-route basis. The first approval process started in September 2020 and focused on qualifications that aligned to occupations in the digital route. The first digital Higher Technical Qualifications will be taught from September 2022. Information on the 15 routes to skilled employment and the occupations they contain can be found on the occupational maps.

We have used the experience of first approvals on the digital route to refine and evolve the process ahead of future cycles. Cycle 2 will include digital, construction and health & science. A full schedule covering all remaining routes will be published in due course. The approvals process will run on an annual basis once the initial rollout of routes is complete.   

Ofqual and Office for Students role

The Institute will only accept qualifications recognised by Ofqual or the Office for Students (OfS). Both organisations will continue to perform their respective regulatory functions in regard to applicants and qualifications (where relevant). In addition, they will provide advice, where appropriate, to the Institute as part of the approvals process. The Institute will make the final approval decisions. 

Statutory Regulated Occupations

To practice in some occupations (professions), it is a legal requirement for individuals to be registered with a statutory regulator. This applies to 5 occupations in cycle 2.  Registration with the statutory regulator is required for the individual to practice in their chosen occupation on completion of their studies. Applicants submitting qualifications against these standards must be recognised by the relevant statutory regulator prior to submission:

Occupational Standard

Statutory Regulator

Nursing associate (NMC 2018) (Level 5)

Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)

Hearing Aid Dispenser (Level 5)

Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)

Dental Technician (integrated) (Level 5)

General Dental Council (GDC)

Clinical dental technician (integrated) (Level 5)

General Dental Council (GDC)

Orthodontic therapist (integrated) (Level 4)

General Dental Council (GDC)

When submitting your application, you will be asked to provide Statutory Regulator recognition/registration numbers. Any qualifications submitted against the above standards will be reviewed by the regulatory body. Regulatory bodies will also provide advice to the Institute as part of the approvals process.

Office of the Independent Adjudicator

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) is an independent body set up to review student complaints about higher education providers in England and Wales. The 2004 Act defines the higher education providers that are required to be members of the OIA’s Scheme. Other higher education organisations can also apply to become members if they are a body delivering higher education courses or awarding higher education qualifications. Those required to be members of the OIA scheme include;

  • Universities
  • ‘Higher education institutions’
  • Providers with courses designated for student support funding
  • Providers on the Office for Students Register; and,
  • Providers who provide higher education courses leading to the grant of an award by another OIA member

Although OIA membership is not required for awarding organisations that are not part of the categories above, they may still voluntarily apply to join the scheme as organisations delivering higher education qualifications. The Department for Education has previously signalled as part of its Reforming Higher Education consultation response that it expects all applicants and providers which own an approved Higher Technical Qualification to join the OIA scheme. In line with this, and as part of the Institute’s role in improving the quality of level 4 and 5 qualifications, we encourage awarding organisations to sign up to the OIA, to provide a consistent approach for complaints from students. Please contact the OIA for further information about joining the Scheme in this way.