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Careers Column 5 - Technical and professional vs academic routes

3 August 2016

Throughout the summer our expert Advice Team is running a special Careers Column in the Gloucester Citizen, Gloucestershire Echo, Stroud Life and Forest Citizen, advising parents on how to help their children make the right choice for their education and future careers.

If you didn't catch it in the paper, don't worry - we will be posting the articles here on the GC news page each week on a Wednesday.

Week 5 - Technical and professional vs academic routes

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Gc Careers Columns 2016 Week 5


Technical and professional vs academic routes

By Tracy Toyne, Advice and Guidance Coordinator

One of the main differences between technical and professional, and academic education is that A Levels involve studying a variety of different subjects, whereas technical and professional is all aimed at one. Furthermore, A Level assessment comes at the end of the course, while technical and professional qualifications include continuous assessment; the latter is a combination of theory and practical work, sometimes with work experience. 

Technical and professional qualifications are not ‘the easy option’; they are well respected by universities and offer a pathway to a degree in the same way that A Levels do. Some universities welcome students from vocational backgrounds, particularly from courses which are practical in nature, as these students have learned how to use equipment and/or software already.

The technical and professional route


  • Courses often take part in the workplace, and are designed to meet the specific needs of employers and job sectors – increasing students’ employability.
  • Courses can be assessed in a variety of ways, rather than the more traditional essay and exam method.
  • Can help people decide whether a particular job or industry is right for them.
  • Variety of options – they are no longer just for hairdressing and construction, but engineering, graphic design, computing, music and more.
  • The new qualifications have been validated by employers and universities as sound methods to lead to real jobs and progression opportunities.
  • The combination of work and study mean students are work-ready (and earning a salary!) much sooner than their academic counterparts.
  • You can avoid the huge debt that most people acquire during university study.


  • Because technical and professional courses are tailored to a job or sector, students can limit their options down to this particular career.
  • The choice of courses available can be confusing, and are not as simple to compare to other qualifications as, say, A Levels and degrees.
  • For some young people university is a rite of passage; a unique bridge between childhood and adulthood, and not just a way to gain a qualification. Living in halls, intense academic study, forming new friendships, writing a dissertation, attending lectures and the nightlife are all things that many people want to experience, and an academic route is the only way to do it.

Technical and professional entry requirement

Entry on to technical and professional courses will ordinarily be as follows:

  • Entry Level – requires no previous qualifications
  • Level 1 – requires some GCSES, mainly at grade E
  • Level 2 – requires four GCSEs (A*to D)
  • Level 3 – requires four or five GCSEs (A* to C), including maths and English, which is much the same as for A Levels.

Since the government raised the age at which students can leave education or training,  all students are required to work towards either a Functional Skills Level 2 (from level 1 onward) or GCSE grade C in English and maths, if you have achieved a grade D on entry.

Technical and professional qualifications

HNC (Higher National Certificate) – Takes one year to complete and is equivalent to the first year of an undergraduate degree course. Can be used to go on to complete a HND.

HND (Higher National Diploma) – Takes two years to complete (or one if you’ve completed a HNC) and equivalent to the second year of a university degree. Many people who complete a HND go on to complete a university degree, bypassing the first two years at university. A more workplace-based style of learning.

Foundation degree – Takes two years to complete and is equivalent to two thirds of a full honour’s degree. Designed to give students basic knowledge in their subject areas; most who complete a foundation degree then go on to study for a university-based bachelor’s degree. However, unlike the HND a foundation degree is a degree in its own right.

Extended degrees – Usually offered by colleges in partnership with local universities and are typically another route to higher education for those who don’t have traditional qualifications, such as A Levels and BTECs. When the first year is over, students then go on to study a relevant degree at the university which provided the extended degree.

Apprenticeships – A job with training for technical or professional qualifications related to a career. You will ordinarily work for an employer four days a week and train or study on the fifth.New degree apprenticeships offer the opportunity to gain a full honour’s degree, alongside working.

The academic route


  • A Levels and degrees are easily recognised and highly regarded by employers. Many roles require specific academic standards of applicants i.e. a degree at 2:1 or above.
  • Degrees from UK-based universities are internationally recognised as world-class, which help graduates if they want to work abroad.
  • University is a unique experience, one that many people feel is a life stage or rite of passage: lasting memories, life-long friendships and academic achievement are all attractive.
  • Academic study hones analytic and debating skills, written communication skills and in-depth knowledge, as well as ability to retain and relay information, which are valuable in the workplace.


  • Degrees are infamously expensive, with many graduates leaving university having built up £44,000 in debt.
  • Staying in a traditional education environment until the age of 21 maybe isn’t the best preparation for the world of work.
  • Many socio-economic commentators in the press have observed that as more people go to university, the more devalued the average degree becomes, meaning that graduates often have to take master’s degrees at more expense and/or years of low paid (or illegally unpaid) internships just to set themselves apart from the other graduates.

Whichever pathway your child decides to choose, the GC Advice Team is here to help. Email or call 0345 155 2020 for independent advice and guidance.

Why Gloucestershire College?

We have a lot of experience offering Apprenticeships and work-related training. We have industry-standard facilities and experienced teaching staff which provide the ideal complement to work-based learning.

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