Courses Explained

There are various levels, types of qualification and different ways to attend College, too. This information should help clarify what different terms mean, and to give you a clearer idea of the right course level, mode of study and qualification for you.

Modes of Study

North East Scotland College offer students a range of choice when it comes to modes of study.

Full-time courses are the most intensive form of study available, with a typical full-time course requiring you to spend at least 20 hours a week at College over a 38 week period each year. There are a broad range of subject areas to choose from, and courses are offered across different levels – from introductory level (e.g. Introduction to Music Studies) to a Higher National Diploma level (e.g. HND Music).

We offer a variety of courses available on a part-time basis. They can be vocational or just for fun, and are taught entirely at a College campus or in one of a range of community locations. The great thing about part-time courses is the flexibility – you can study during the day, in the evening or even at weekends, and work at a pace to suit your individual circumstances. The flexible element makes part-time study a popular option for those who need to juggle work or family commitments alongside their study.

There are three forms of Distance Learning are available.

Distance Learning with campus/centre attendance required: 
A course which is studied at a distance, students may have to come in to a campus or centre – often for assessment purposes only.

Distance Learning with tutor support:
A course where students are expected to manage their workload independently with a basic level of tutor support.

Distance Learning without tutor support:
A course where students are expected to manage their workload independently but without tutor support

School pupils in the Senior Phase of Curriculum for Excellence can choose to study a part-time School Links course at College as part of their school timetable.

Foundation Apprenticeships

Foundation Apprenticeships are for Senior Phase pupils. Starting in S5, this two-year programme combines course work and extended work experience to lead to industry-recognised qualification at SCQF Level 6 (the same level as a Higher).

Course Levels

Our course levels indicate the difficulty of course content, allowing you to choose a course that is closely suited to your abilities.

To find out more about SCQF levels, visit the SCQF Interactive Framework.

Some courses are entry level, for those with no relevant qualifications or work experience, but an interest in and aptitude for a particular subject.

Across all of our subject areas there are a range of non-advanced courses. These are our usually at SCQF Level 4, 5 or 6. The entry requirements for these courses depend upon subject area. In some instances, applicants don’t need relevant qualifications or work experience to apply – but will be required to demonstrate a specific interest in and aptitude for the subject. In other areas, National 4s, Foundation/General Standard Grades or Intermediate 1s will be asked for. For those with National 5s, Credit Standard Grades, Intermediate 2s, or the completion of a relevant introductory course, there is a higher level of non-advanced study (SCQF Level 6). Those who have relevant experience and demonstrate an interest in and aptitude for the subject will also be considered.

Advanced Level (SCQF Level 7 and 8) courses are for those with:

  • Appropriate Highers, or equivalent qualifications;
  • Those who have successfully completed a relevant non-advanced level course; or
  • Those who have relevant life skills and experience, and show an interest in and aptitude for the subject.

If you are in any doubt about which course level is most appropriate for you, you can arrange a meeting with a member of our Information & Advice team. Contact the team directly by calling or dropping into your local Student Advice Centre, or by emailing



At North East Scotland College it’s our aim to encourage people to enter education and training, meaning you don’t always need to have specific qualifications to enrol on one of our courses – you can start at an appropriate level for your ability and experience. Most subject areas offer courses at various levels, so there’s a course to suit everyone! If you already have some qualifications, it may be the case that you enter an advanced level course, i.e. an HNC or HND. However, if you are new to learning or have only studied up to Standard Grade Foundations or National 3 or 4 level, you may prefer to start off with an introductory or preliminary course level.

The various courses on offer can provide you with an easy route into learning, along with the opportunity to move up through the levels towards an HNC or HND, or a degree at one of our associate universities.

National Certificates are non-advanced qualifications including National Units, National Courses, National Clusters and Scottish Group Awards. Study is vocationally orientated and covers training relevant to employment. On successful completion of a Scottish Group Award or programme of National Units, you should be qualified to gain employment. Alternatively you can continue your education at a more advanced level, opting to use your National Qualification as a stepping stone. NC also covers Standard Grade, the former National Certificate Modules and SEB Short Courses (now known as National Units). A National Unit usually comprises around 40 hours of study. Other qualifications in this area include ‘Lifestart’ and ‘Workstart’, and there are also several awards in specific areas, known as ‘National Certificate Group Awards’.

Scottish Group Awards are very useful for those who have been out of full-time education for a while. They are built up unit by unit, allowing you to work towards the SGA at your own pace. There are opportunities for credit transfer from other qualifications such as Standard Grades or SVQ Units, so you may already be part of the way there. Experiences from outside your education can also help you to achieve a Scottish Group Award.

The SVQ was introduced to develop the skills of the nation’s workforce. The qualifications are offered from levels 1-5 and are available alongside a wide range of occupations. They can be studied in the workplace, at College (where simulated workplace environments have been established) or through a mixture of college attendance and workplace training. SVQs are an excellent option for those wishing to enhance career development.

HNC courses are at a higher level than National Qualifications and as a result are in greater depth, with each Unit (1 credit) consisting of approximately 40 hours of study. They are vocationally focused and generally concentrate on specific careers, meaning you’ll become well equipped with both practical and theoretical skills in your chosen area of study. The award is achieved after successful completion of 12 credits, meaning the course can take anything from 18 weeks to one year of full-time study. North East Scotland College offer a wide range of HNC courses on a full-time basis, as well as on a part-time basis (day study, evening classes or a combination of both). Part-time students will normally take two to three years to achieve an HNC, although Fast Track courses can allow you to complete your course in one year.

HND courses are the most advanced course available at the College, and offer a broader range of study than HNC. HNDs are awarded on successful completion of 30 credits, which normally takes a full-time student around 2 years to complete. Many HND courses are also available on a part-time basis.

VRQs focus on the development of principles and practical skills required in specific industries. They are designed to act as a solid platform to progress into employment and to deliver occupational capability. The structure of VRQs is flexible, meaning they can be studied full-time or part-time, as well as part of continuous professional development.

Fast Track courses make it possible to achieve an HNC within one year through a combination of study, e.g. one day per week, one to two evenings and part of the weekend. Fast Track HNC programmes are particularly well suited to those who want to study alongside their career.

PDAs are designed to build and develop high level, specialist skills in a concise but flexible manner. They act as a great option for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and are perfect for young people, graduates and adult learners who want to specialise in a specific area of industry, training or education. North East Scotland College offer PDAs at Certificate, Advanced Certificate and Diploma level. Certificates may be made up of Higher National Units, National Units, Workplace Assessed Units or a combination of any or all three. Advanced Certificates and Diplomas are composed of Higher National Units.

Professional Qualifications leading to membership of professional bodies are available on a full-time or part-time basis. Membership of a professional body is often very beneficial to career development.

Assessment & Examination

Certificates and Diplomas awarded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) are continuously assessed throughout the duration of the course. Assessment may be written or practical project work, depending on your chosen course.

Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL)

Accreditation of Prior Learning is used to match any prior learning and practical achievements with newer qualifications. The process uses previous achievements, skills and knowledge to credit you with nationally recognised qualifications – if sufficient evidence of meeting qualification standards is provided.

APL Process

An initial interview will investigate your existing skills and knowledge. You will then be referred to a subject specialist who will advise you on the most suitable qualification to pursue. The award is gained by:

  • Gathering a portfolio of past work
  • Assessment on demand
  • Credit transfer

The cost of APL will depend on the number of awards being attempted, and whether or not an observational visit is required. Costs will be minimised by gathering as much evidence as possible in order to prove your claim to learning. For more information, please contact the team directly by calling or dropping into your local Student Advice Centre, or by emailing

Scottish Credit & Qualifications Framework (SCQF)

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) is Scotland’s lifelong learning framework. It contains the qualification frameworks of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), Scottish Higher Education (HE) and a range of qualifications from other Awarding Bodies.

The SCQF aims to:

  1. Help people of all ages and circumstances to access appropriate education and training over their lifetime to fulfil their personal, social and economic potential;
  2. Enable employers, learners and the public in general to understand the full range of Scottish qualifications, how they relate to each other and how different types of qualifications can contribute to improving the skills of the workforce.

The SCQF is managed by the Scottish Credit and Qualifications framework Partnership whose members include Scottish Government, higher education and college sectors, employers and the SQA. Although it is not a regulatory body, the SCQF Partnership maintains the quality and use of the Framework as a whole.

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework promotes lifelong learning in Scotland, and acts as a way to compare the wide range of Scottish qualifications offered across schools, colleges and universities. It works by allocating each qualification a level and a number of credit points. The level reflects the difficulty of learning involved in the course, and the credit points show how much learning is involved in order to achieve that particular qualification.

The SCQF Level is based on one set of SCQF Level Descriptors which range from Level 1 to Level 12. The Levels are used by the Credit Rating Bodies to determine the level of learning regardless of whether the qualification is academic, vocational or non-formal. It clarifies the complexity of the learning involved and indicates how different learning programmes can relate to each other. This aids clarity in articulation and progression. For example, a course rated SCQF Level 7 indicates that it is more demanding than a course at SCQF Level 6.

SCQF Credit Points indicate the typical amount of time that it would take to achieve the learning outcomes of your qualification or learning programme. One SCQF Credit Point equates to ten notional learning hours.

The SCQF Diagram portrays the frameworks of HE, SQA and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs). However the framework also contains over 400 qualifications and learning programmes offered in the community, by employers and those offered by awarding bodies other than the SQA.

Full-time courses

Part-time courses

Distance learning

School links