NextGen: HN - Articulation, Progression and Grading

NextGen: HN - grading

NextGen: HN qualifications have a new approach to grading, designed to better reflect a learner’s standard in their HNC/HND qualification. Rather than the graded unit(s) used in current Higher National qualifications, NextGen: NH qualifications will have whole qualification grades.

To achieve a grade in a NextGen HN qualification, a learner will have to demonstrate achievement across the breadth of the qualification content.

This will ensure they are recognised for the full range of their achievement, and motivated to perform across the qualification content, rather than being led to focus effort on one or two assessments towards the end of teaching.

Along with this, NextGen: HN qualifications are being designed with fewer, larger units, to encourage a holistic approach to delivery and assessment. The qualifications will have a consistent size and level by design: HNCs will be level 7 and 120 SCQF credit points, with at least 80 of those points at SCQF Level 7; HNDs will be level 8 and 120 SCQF credit points, with at least 80 of those points at SCQF Level 8. 

Centres will therefore be freed to focus on teaching the depth of the qualification, drawing out the connections between different elements of the content.

Grade outcomes 

Learners who pass NextGen: HN qualifications will receive one of the following grade outcomes: 

  • Achieved
  • Achieved with Merit 
  • Achieved with Distinction

These outcomes each have a grading statement which briefly describes a candidate’s performance on their certificate for each of the three grades.

'Achieved'' represents a learner who has passed all the required units, and in addition shown a consistent standard across the breadth of their qualification, having demonstrated thorough knowledge, understanding and application of skills. ‘Achieved with Merit’ and ‘Achieved with Distinction’ represent standards above this.

The new grade outcomes will not directly correlate to the current qualifications' graded unit outcomes of A, B or C, as these are based solely on the graded unit(s).

Grading review

This grading review shares the experiences of two pilot centres for the NextGen: HNC in Television, and explains how they made grading judgements on their first cohorts of learners. It captures the key points of their approaches and experiences and supports ongoing reviews and evaluations during the pilot phase.

Good Practice in Assessment and Grading: Grading Review.

Grading – the interim position

The review of grading in the NextGen pilots is well underway. This update gives you a view of what we’ve been doing, where we’re at, and the likely direction of travel.

Grading is one of the key changes in the NextGen HNCs and HNDs, and it’s vital that it’s tested so we know it works well, and we can improve on the initial approaches to grading that our pilot centres have been working with. Whole qualification grading should allow pilot centres to recognise learners’ achievement across the course content, throughout delivery, in a way that truly reflects their standard and abilities.

We’ve spent the last 6 months listening very closely to our pilot centres about grading, as a large number of them come up to the end of their first year of delivery, and we want to say a big thank you to all pilot centres who have given up time to talk about grading and their experience with the new qualifications.

We’ve taken a close look at how grading has worked in almost all the qualifications that completed this past summer, and we plan to look at any remaining qualifications soon. This has meant detailed discussion with centres about how they assessed and graded their learners, and how the grading approach supported this.

In addition, we’ve been looking closely at Meta-skills and how we can support centres with grading learners’ engagement in meta-skills – and we will be doing the same thing for Learning for Sustainability.

Within SQA we have captured findings on grading in an interim report, which has been reviewed and signed off by our internal governance. The interim report captures our current position and makes recommendations for what we want to focus on next, including the following key principles:

  • Grading models – currently we are testing three grading models: the key competency model, the holistic model and the key component model. Different HNs are using different models, but what we have found is that our key competency and holistic models share a lot in common, and that our key component model was not the right fit for the qualifications it was being used for. Therefore our focus has turned to the key competency and holistic models, and we expect to have a set of clear principles for the use of those models, meaning that we won’t ask pilot centres on one model to switch to another in the future, where that model is working well.
  • Overall grade outcomes – our overall grade outcomes of Achieved, Achieved with Merit and Achieved with Distinction are clear and well understood by centres delivering the qualifications, but we want to ensure that we properly reflect learners’ achievement across both HNCs and HNDs, and therefore our overall grade descriptors for those outcomes will be re-written so that we have a set of descriptors for our HNCs and a separate set for our HNDs. We think this will allow for clearer benchmarking of grades across the two qualifications, which of course are at two different SCQF levels.
  • Standardisation – our grading reviews have showed the clear benefit of pilot centres coming together to discuss and share their grade judgements and how they have decided between learners’ standards, i.e. whether they are Achieved, Achieved with Merit or Achieved with Distinction. We want to extend this activity beyond the pilots, so that there is a supportive standardisation discussion across centres for all our NextGen HNs. This will fit alongside our normal QA activity, and is currently being scoped so that we can test it during this pilot year.
  • Documentation and guidance – we have already refined our documentation, so that pilot centres this year will now have both an Educator Guide, and a new ‘Grading pack’, to work with. The grading pack will be a convenient go to document for all the essential information about grading the qualification, including any relevant grading matrices and guidance. We will further refine and improve the guidance in this documentation based on our discussions with pilot centres.

Holistic Grading Model 

  • HNC Accounting
  • HNC Agricultural Technology
  • HNC Childhood Practice
  • HNC Engineering (Electrical & Mechanical hybrid)
  • HNC Engineering (Engineering Systems)
  • HNC Horticulture 
  • HNC Physical Activity and Health
  • HNC Social Sciences
  • HNC Social Services

Key Competency Grading Model 

  • HNC Agriculture
  • HND Radio
  • HNC Television
  • HND Television

Key Component Grading Model

  • HNC Computing

Holistic Grading Model 

  • HNC Accounting
  • HND Accounting
  • HNC Childhood Practice
  • HNC Engineering (Engineering Systems)
  • HNC Horticulture 
  • HND Horticulture 
  • HNC Physical Activity and Health
  • HND Physical Activity and Health
  • HNC Social Sciences
  • HND Social Sciences
  • HNC Social Services

Key Competency Grading Model 

  • HNC Acting and Performance
  • HNC Agriculture
  • HND Agriculture
  • HNC Computing
  • HND Radio
  • HNC Television
  • HND Television
  • HND Networking and Cloud Infrastructure
  • HND Software Development

SQA connections webinar

Our Research and Policy Manager for Grading, Andrew Newman, recently gave a webinar summarising the key changes and direction of travel for grading in the NextGen HN qualifications. 

Additional information

Grading will support articulation and progression, allowing learners to follow the path that is right for them.

The tabs above list the qualifications being piloted and identify which grading model they are currently using. Learners who complete NextGen: HN qualifications in session 2022-23 would look to progress to a Higher Education Institute (HEI) in September 2023 while learners completing NextGen: HN qualifications in session 2023-24 would look to progress to an HEI in September 2024. We are sharing all NextGen: HN qualification content with HEI’s to ensure they have the access they need to carry out decisions.

Articulation and Progression

How we can support you

We are committed to providing guidance and support to help centres engage in meaningful discussions with their Higher Education institution (HEI) partners, and employers, about articulation and progression.

We want to ensure colleges are in the best possible position to develop workable articulation agreements which are in the spirit of our NextGen: HN principles.

We are also happy to attend meetings with staff in centres to discuss articulation and progression and answer any questions.

We can support centres with discussions on progression from HNCs to HNDs – either from existing HNCs to NextGen HNDs, or progression between colleges.

Request support


If you are currently studying for a NextGen: HN, you may be considering going to university after the end of your qualification.

By completing a HNC or HND you may be eligible to go into second or third year of a degree programme – we call this articulation. In fact, your college may already have an articulation agreement in place with some universities.

This is a formal arrangement between a college and university that may allow you to enter into a university programme at an advanced level such as year two of a degree programme if you have a relevant HNC, or year three with a relevant HND, so it’s worth checking with your college first.

Articulating from an HNC or HND is a fantastic way for you to continue in your education journey into a university and have your prior achievement recognised without having to repeat what you have already learned.

You may find My World of Work resource a great starting point.

Articulation from NextGen: HNC to HEIs

Articulation agreements between colleges and HEIs are generally local arrangements based on the notion of credit accumulation and transfer (CAT).

The opportunity to enter employment or progress along the SCQF framework into further college or university study is widely recognised as one of the key strengths of our Higher National provision. NextGen: HN will enhance these opportunities. HEIs may offer advanced standing - direct entry to second year of degree programmes - to students based on the level they have achieved.

Articulation is defined by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) as ‘a student gaining entry into the second year of a degree with a Higher National Certificate (HNC) gained at college, or into the third year with a Higher National Diploma (HND) gained at college’.

Therefore, with prior arrangement, a collaborative ‘matching of content’ and a satisfying of any further University conditions a student gaining a NextGen HNC could articulate to a second year of a degree.

Articulation to a NextGen HND in same institution

There are many routes that could lead to a HND within the same institution.

If the preceding study level was a NextGen: HNC, the articulation is straightforward. However, at this early stage it is possible that the preceding qualification was a non-NextGen: HNC.

It is relatively common for colleges to allow their students to achieve 15 credits at HNC level as a matter of course. Given this, and in keeping with previous handovers between old and new qualifications, colleges will need to review their own frameworks. Where direct articulation gaps are evident, the college should consider Recognition of Prior Learning.

Once entry has been gained to the NextGen: HND, further articulation should be possible to third year of a degree if the above conditions are met.

SQA’s policy on Recognition of prior learning (RPL) outlines how we take into account the knowledge, understanding and practical experience learners have before they start a qualification when we consider whether they have met that qualification’s evidence requirements.

We recognise that learners gain knowledge and skills through formal, non-formal and informal learning contexts. A learner is unlikely to have the appropriate prior learning and experience to meet all the requirements of a full group award before they start the course.

Recognition of prior learning in Next Generation Higher National Qualifications

SQA’s RPL policy also applies to Next Generation Higher National Qualifications (NextGen HNQs). We have produced this FAQ guidance to help you apply RPL to these qualifications. In this guidance, we refer to non-NextGen HNQs as current HNQs.

If a learner has completed a NextGen HNC, can they move onto a current HND?

Yes. The knowledge, skills and understanding learners develop during their NextGen HNC puts them in a good position to articulate to the HND. The delivering centre should use SQA’s RPL guidance to facilitate this.

NextGen HNCs don’t have a graded unit. Does this mean a learner can’t move onto to a current HND?

No. The absence of a graded unit does not affect a learner’s ability to progress to the next level. The evidence learners generate across the award determines their grade. The NextGen award is still graded, with learners receiving a grade of ‘achieved’, ‘achieved with merit’ or ‘achieved with distinction’ when they complete the award. Delivering centres should use SQA’s RPL guidance to help them with this. You can find more information on grading models in NextGen HNQs on our website.

If a learner has completed a NextGen HNC and moves onto a current HND, the centre must enter a grade for the graded unit for them. How should they go about this?

The NextGen grading model differs from the current HNQ model. In NextGen: HNQs, instead of using a single 1-credit unit as the grading vehicle, grading is generated across the award. The NextGen award is still graded, with the learner receiving a grade of ‘achieved’, ‘achieved with merit’ or ‘achieved with distinction’. These grades are not aligned to the graded unit model of A, B and C.

In this situation, we expect practitioners to use their professional judgement of the learner’s NextGen HNC grade to make a fair decision on the graded unit element, while following the existing requirements and guidance for the current HND. Practitioners use their professional judgement when using SQA’s RPL policy when learners enter any SQA course.

Does a NextGen HNC together with a current HND give sufficient credits needed for direct entry to university?

Yes. NextGen HN awards, both NextGen HNCs and NextGen HNDs, are distinct qualifications consisting of 15 credits each, while current HNDs consist of 15 credits. This means that if a learner completes a NextGen HNC and then completes a current HND, they have achieved 30 credits, equal to university entry requirements when articulating from an HND to a degree programme.

Does a NextGen HND together with a current HNC give sufficient credits needed for direct entry to university?

No. NextGen HN awards, both NextGen HNCs and NextGen HNDs, are distinct qualifications consisting of 15 credits each, while current HNCs consist of 12 credits. This means that if a learner completes a current HNC and then completes a NextGen HND, they have achieved 27 credits. In this situation, the centre should support the learner by providing a route to the 30 credits required for articulation.

Can a learner move onto a current HND in a different centre having completed a NextGen HNC?

Yes. NextGen HNQs are stand-alone qualifications. A learner who has successfully completed a NextGen HNC brings 15 credits as an entry offer to a NextGen HND. Centres must assess whether the learner has sufficient relevant knowledge to indicate their potential success in an HND and beyond. Centres must enter and result the learner for the units in the current HNC. This is the same approach they would use for a learner coming from a current HNC in one college to a current HND in another. Centres can use RPL to facilitate this.

If a learner has completed a NextGen HNC and moves into a current HND, are there any additional entry cost implications for centres when implementing the RPL guidance?

No. When a learner completes a NextGen HNC and moves onto a current HND, the delivering centre should use SQA’s RPL policy to facilitate this. This means that the centre enters and results the learner for the first year of the HND (HNC year). There is no additional cost for this; the current pricing structure for an HND still applies.

We have been engaging with UCAS to ensure articulation routes from NextGen: HN programmes are as smooth as possible.

NextGen: HN qualifications are visible on the UCAS Advisor Portal within the application process and display as:

  • SQA Higher National Certificate (NextGen)
  • SQA Higher National Diploma (NextGen)

Grades entered for NextGen: HN awards on the UCAS Advisor Portal will be in line with the NextGen: HN grading model.

Predicted grades are entered by choosing:

  • P (Achieved)
  • M (Achieved with Merit)
  • D (Achieved with Distinction)

We have worked collaboratively with our partners and stakeholders to develop the approach for NextGen: HN articulation and progression to date including:

  • Establishing a cross-sector Articulation, Progression and Grading Advisory Group, which provides advice, guidance and feedback so that NextGen: HN qualifications enable articulation and progression pathways. This group has representation from HEIs, Further Education Institutions, Skills Development Scotland, Scotland’s Community of Access and Participation Practitioners (SCAPP) and National Access and Widening Participation Managers Group, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and Student Participation in Quality Scotland (Sparqs).
  • Introducing the NextGen: HN concept to all HEIs and outlining the help available to colleges, employers and training providers.
  • Providing NextGen: HN pilot centres with subject-specific information to support articulation and progression conversations.
  • Running HEI Showcase events to update HEI partners on progress being made at subject-level across NextGen: HN prototype qualifications and the range of resources available, including Qualification Information documents. A new series of HEI Showcase events is being planned for 2023-24.
  • Exploring issues such as grading, national articulation and meta skills with the HEI sector through a number of engagements throughout the past 18 months.

Preparing to receive nextgen learners

An introduction to articulation - SCAPP

This short course, created by members of the Scotland’s Community of Access and Participation Practitioners (SCAPP) working group, explains the definitions, contexts and aims of articulation.

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