Our qualifications are changing

We are adapting our Higher National (HN) qualifications to give learners the skills they need to thrive in the 21st century workplace. 

Our new HN qualifications will:

  • be adaptable and flexible to respond to the needs of a constantly changing employment environment
  • support life-long learning and multiple career options
  • integrate essential 21st century skills or Meta-skills
  • develop critical industry and subject-specific technical skills

We ran virtual roadshows in September 2021 to help learning, teaching and support staff from Scotland’s colleges, explaining how we are approaching this work. You can view a recording of one of the webinars below:

During our webinars we received questions recorded in the chat. Many of these were answered in the chat or during the presentation. Here we have grouped information which answers other questions into themes.

An important strand of work within the NextGen: HN project deals with progression to employment or further study, including articulation to further or higher education. We have established a stakeholder group with representation from higher education and other bodies to liaise on strategic and operational issues in these areas, share information and evaluate progress. The HEI representation on this group meets the requirements of the NextGen: HN Qualification Design Team remit. The strategic direction of the project is overseen by our External Reference and Steering Group, which has senior representation from further education, the Scottish Funding Council and Universities Scotland. We have already engaged with the Quality Assurance Agency (Scotland) and Scotland’s Community of Access and Participation Practitioners, and an HEI specific roadshow is planned for the near future. Development of each qualification will carefully consider the present and future needs of learners, and this will include articulation pathways, and opportunities to develop meta-skills.

As part of the NextGen service design model, prototype qualifications will be tested during pilot delivery, and this includes approaches to qualification grading, which are also prototype and subject to evaluation. Qualification grading means that, while individual units remain pass/fail, all candidates will be graded for their overall qualification as Achieved, Achieved with Merit or Achieved with Distinction. Please visit the NextGen: HN page to see our prototype grading models and grading process. Detailed rubrics are developed by the qualification design teams (QDTs) to support each qualification grading model and will be tested during pilot delivery.

In response to queries about engagement with HEIs over prototype approaches to qualification grading: QDTs include representation from HEIs, and we engage with HEIs through our articulation and progression working group.

During phase 2, subject areas have been chosen for development because they will further test the current design principles, and this includes HNs with SVQ units.

As NextGen: HN products progress and mature because of pilot delivery and evaluation, they will become 'business as usual' in their final form. In the future, the normal and ongoing refresh of HNs will adopt NextGen principles. After the introduction of final NextGen products, the end date for original HN programmes will be determined following policy review. We will share information on this as soon as possible. Pilot centres are developing assessment approaches, and these will go through testing and evaluation in line with NextGen: HN design principles. Approaches to assessment developed through pilot centre delivery are captured in the new 'educator's guide' which incorporates the qualification specification. The unit specifications and educator's guide will be available only after pilot delivery and evaluation, in time for the wider roll-out of the NextGen: HNs. Our NextGen: HN development infographic will shortly be available on the NextGen webpages

At the moment we are focussed on phase 2 developments. Other subjects may be selected at a future point in line with selection criteria and we will update the sector as soon as there is further information.

What are the new HN qualifications?

Development work is now underway for the following qualifications which will be piloted in academic year 2022/23. Teaching support will be available to centres taking part in the pilot through our digital learning and support platform. The qualifications being piloted are as follows:

  • HNC Computing
  • HND Computer Science
  • HND Data Science 
  • HND Networking and Infrastructure
  • HND Software Development
  • HNC Engineering (with Engineering Systems options)
  • HNC Engineering (with Manufacturing Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Engineering Systems, Electrical Engineering, Electronic Engineering and Instrumentation and Control options)
  • HND Engineering Systems
  • HND Television
  • HND Radio
  • HNC Social Sciences
  • HNC Fitness, Health and Exercise (HND 2023/24)
  • HNC Accounting (HND 2023/24)
  • HNC Childcare Practice
  • HNC Social Services

How did we get here?

We ran a consultation between February 2018 and March 2019 to think about how to reshape HNs for the future, given the extent of change in the education, skills and employment landscape since they were last reviewed and revised.

This included extensive engagement with colleges, sector skills bodies, Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Funding Council and other stakeholders.

What is NextGen:HN? E-learning module

We have created an introductory e-learning module which can be accessed here. This module provides background of the project, what is different, what are the benefits and other high-level information


What will be different?


HNC (level 7) and HND (level 8) are standalone qualifications worth 120 SCQF credit points (equivalent to 15 SQA credits) each

Larger and fewer units of learning to significantly reduce assessment load and encourage more integrated learning, teaching and assessment approaches.


Opportunity to develop meta-skills ­defined as skills that help us to adapt and excel in any context the future brings for example, self-management, social intelligence and innovation. This will be embedded in the qualification design adapted from: Skills 4.0: a skills model to drive Scotland's future:


Significantly reduced assessment load for both learners and staff.

Three new models of grading we are testing these across the pilot qualifications.

Digital technology used across delivery to enhance and support effective, flexible and learner-centred assessment, learning and teaching approaches.

New approaches to grading and Quality Assurance based on stakeholder feedback and learners needs.



What happens next?

Throughout the pilot we will evaluate the effectiveness of the new qualifications. We will measure how well they:

  • increase opportunities for learners
  • support successful progression into employment or further learning

A steering group of stakeholders and key internal SQA personnel will co-ordinate this, supported by a working group. We will communicate updates on this activity regularly.

For more information on the pilot, contact nextgen@sqa.org.uk