Higher National qualifications (HNs)

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SQA's Higher National Certificate (HNC), Higher National Diploma (HND) and Professional Development Award (PDA) are recognised brand leaders, and an industry standard that employers have come to rely on.  HNC/HNDs were first introduced in 1925 and have developed over the years into the recognised qualifications they are today for technician/middle management levels.

HNC and HND qualifications cover a wide range of subject areas.  While HNCs are qualifications in their own right, in many instances they can form the first year of an HND programme.  A large number of HNDs articulate with university degrees, and may allow candidates to progress to the second and third year of degree programmes.

Higher National qualifications are Unit-based.  Higher National Units are developed by SQA in wide range of subject areas.  Frameworks can also be devised by local consortia or individual colleges.  All Higher National Units have to undergo SQA's validation process to make sure they meet national standards.

The specification for each Higher National Unit explains:

It also gives guidance on teaching and learning approaches.  The key part of each specification is the statement of standards, which explains exactly what the candidate should achieve.  These standards must be achieved for a candidate to complete a Unit successfully.

Our Higher National qualifications are mostly offered in Scotland's further education colleges and some universities.  To achieve a full Higher National Group Award, candidates must complete the following:



12 credits including one Graded Unit

30 credits including three Graded Units


Note: the revised design principles for Higher National qualifications were published in April 2003.  These principles introduce, among other things, Graded Units as part of the frameworks.  The group award Graded Units form the basis of grading and testing the candidates' retention and integration of knowledge and skills learned in a course.  Grading is assigned to group award Graded Units.  Please check the HN pages on SQA's website for further information.

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To order copies of these publications, please contact SQA's Customer Contact Centre by e-mail: mycentre@sqa.org.uk, or telephone: 0303 333 0330.