SQA publishes new research on take up of Higher National qualifications across Scotland

02 November 2015

SQA has published new research that highlights patterns of achievement in Higher National (HN) qualifications across Scotland for the past six years.

The analysis has identified that SQA Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Diplomas (HNDs) provide an important route to higher education or employment for people from the most deprived communities in Scotland.

The new research, which has been referenced against the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), shows SQA’s HNs serve all of Scotland well – particularly Scotland’s more deprived areas.

In 2014-15, the most deprived 20% of Scottish communities provided 22.6% of HN certifications, while the least deprived 20% of Scottish communities provided 16.7%. 
This research is published in the 90th anniversary year of Scotland’s Higher Nationals – HNDs and HNCs – qualifications which are designed to prepare learners for employment, career development or progression to degree programmes.

In 2014-15, 21,708 HN certificates were awarded in a wide range of subjects to learners in Scotland. This has increased from 17,457 in 2009-10.*

HN certifications by quintile, 2009-10 to 2014-15

  2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15
Total HN certs 17,457 18,949 20,302 21,353 21,096 21,708
1 (most deprived) 20.3% 21.3% 21.5% 21.7% 21.2% 22.6%
2 21.2% 20.8% 21.4% 21.0% 21.0% 20.3%
3 19.9% 19.9% 20.3% 20.6% 20.3% 20.7%
4 20.2% 20.2% 19.5% 19.3% 20.0% 19.7%
5 (least deprived) 18.5% 17.8% 17.4% 17.4% 17.5% 16.7%

The analysis also provides information by broad sector and gender. Over the period of the research, there were consistently more certificates awarded to females.

In terms of sectors, it was found that certificates for subjects in hair & beauty, health & social care, hospitality, travel & tourism, computing, software & IT, and finance & accounting, are most popular in the most deprived areas of the country.

Dr Janet Brown, chief executive of the SQA, said the research highlighted the opportunity for all of Scotland to access a high standard of qualifications.

Dr Brown said: “We strive to provide a wide range of qualifications to suit every learner in Scotland. SQA’s Higher National qualifications allow learners from right across Scotland to achieve a higher education which might not otherwise have been possible. Our research shows that HNCs and HNDs are a popular and accessible route into higher education or a career. They are highly valued by universities and employers, and we work closely with industry to ensure the qualifications meet the needs of our modern economy.” 
The SIMD is the Scottish Government’s official tool for identifying communities in Scotland suffering from deprivation. It incorporates several different aspects of deprivation (employment, income, health, education, access to services, crime, and housing), combining them into a single index The SQA matched the postcodes of candidates achieving HN qualifications with the SIMD.

Offered largely by colleges, some universities, and training providers, HNCs and HNDs are designed to meet the needs of employers, providing students with both the practical skills and theoretical knowledge an employer would expect.

HN students

HNs are developed by SQA in partnership with colleges, universities, and industry.

Many professional bodies in the UK also recognise the quality and value of an SQA HND qualification. This has led a high number of bodies to enter into agreements with SQA which recognise this value by way of articulation and professional recognition. More than a third of SQA’s HND portfolio has formal links with one or more professional bodies.

Education Secretary Angela Constance added: “I am very pleased to see an increase in attainment in Higher National qualifications. These provide thousands of students with a route into others areas of education, including degree courses, or directly to employment. Their importance to Scottish education cannot be underestimated and they continue to serve Scotland very well. Ahead of the interim findings of the Commission for Widening Access, we should not lose sight of how important these pathways are in ensuring those from less well-off backgrounds have the opportunity to enter Higher Education.”

A copy of the full report is available here.