Mar 06 2012

What’s the difference between higher education and further education?

Higher education and further education: a quick definition

The difference between higher and further education (HE and FE) can be a common cause of confusion – here’s our quick round up of their definitions in a UK context.

What's the difference between higher education and further education?

What is further education?

Further education (FE) is used to describe the education that occurs following compulory post-16 secondary education, which is usually distinct from that offered in universities (higher education). It includes many different levels such as A Levels and Higher National Diplomas. Foundation Degrees are also a type of further education and take 2 years to complete (or 3-4 part-time) compared with the 3-4 years of most bachelors degrees, however they are offered by both universities and colleges; sometimes it is possible to ‘top-up’ a Foundation Degree to a bachelors degree, with 1 year or more of extra study

Further education is usually taught in the sixth-form college part of a school or in independent FE colleges, as well as in other work-based, adult and community learning institutions. Further education programmes will usually go up to Level 3 (e.g. Advances Apprenticeships or A Levels) and are often designed to provide the skills to advance to HE. In the US FE is sometimes referred to as continuing education.

What is higher education?

Higher education (HE) primarily describes post-18 learning that takes place at universities, as well as other colleges and institutions that award academic degrees, professional qualifications and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) modules. Whilst HE is the common name in the UK and Ireland, it is also known as post-secondary, tertiary and third level education. The right of access to higher education is enshrined in both UN and European human rights conventions (see more info on Wikipedia).

Image source: Stuart Miles


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  1. essaytask.com | essay examples

    Very interesting and informative post although the majority of information is available on Wikipedia.

    1. Natasha

       Thank you for you comment, although you did not give a name?

      Yes similar information is available elsewhere online, but we thought a post would be useful for our blog seeing as we often mention these terms and they may be confusing to our overseas readers 🙂

  2. Suzanne

    At last some clarity! I needed to know exactly what Tertiary Education meant as my Ex has to pay for his ‘children’s’ Tertiary education should they get there! Even a teacher didn’t know!!

    1. lcporguk

      Great that you found it useful Suzanne and thank you for taking the time to post a comment.


  3. Phill

    What is the difference between Secondary Education and Further Education ?

    Thank you

    1. lcporguk

      Hi Phill,

      In most countries secondary education is compulsory education which takes place in schools. Whereas further education is when an individual decides they want to continue their learning beyond what is required through either an academic or vocational route.

  4. COLLEGEjobsite | FE Jobs

    What I would add is within Colleges the staff maintain a very high standard of support. If you are a student you will benefit from this high standard of support which differs from HE where classes tend to be larger. Very different but it depends what you are after. A good grade should be easier in FE as they tend to offer a lot of support naturally

    1. lcporguk

      Thank you for your comment and we believe it varies significantly. It’s true that in lectures theatres there may be more students but that is not the only input with supervised work and smaller classroom activities very common in universities too.

  5. Jibola

    Is higher educational institution the same as going to college or university.to be precis,is patten university,not sure really a university.

    1. lcporguk

      Hi Jibola,

      Thank you for your comment. There has been a lot of change within Higher Education over the past few years and I think it is down to the individual student to think about what institution/university would meet their needs best. Colleges offer university standard courses and qualifications so I think it really is down to personal choice because even between universities there is such diversity of courses on offer.

  6. Bill

    Information on here is wrong. For example foundation degrees are HE qualifications, not FE qualifications like you said. Foundation Degrees are vocational degrees which are the first 2 years of uni. Thats why after completly one you can go directly to the 3rd year of a full honours degree. Ive done one. Also some diplomas can be better thsn degrees, you have to check the qualification level, for example a levels are level 3 qualifications and foundation degrees are much harder which is a level 5 qualification.

    1. lcporguk

      Hi Bill,

      Thank you for your comment and yes, you are right I apologise for any confusion I think we were looking at what was offered by HE and FE institutions and of course both offer Foundation Degrees. This link from ACAS provides more information about them http://fd.ucas.com/FoundationDegree/About.aspx#q1

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