Read our report and watch our videos to find out about full-time undergraduate degree pathways through higher education, including degree and higher level apprenticeships.

Universities and colleges cater for an incredibly diverse population of students in terms of age, educational background, and ambition, and there have been a number of recent policy interventions to increase the options available to prospective students. These include accelerated two-year degrees, the introduction of flexible credit arrangements, and new higher and degree apprenticeships. However, these only enhance the diversity of provision that already exists in the higher education sector.

Progression pathways 2017 describes and explores those pathways which give students the opportunity to progress to a bachelor’s degree in an incremental way – progressively securing qualifications at intermediate levels – and those which combine study with work. Some pathways do both. We concentrate on four main pathways:

  • foundation years and degrees with foundation years
  • foundation degrees
  • Higher National Certificates (HNC) and Higher National Diplomas (HND) 
  • Higher and degree level apprenticeships

Our main findings:

  • There’s a welcome diversity of provision, but considerable change.
  • These pathways support widening participation and access, offering an alternative to a three-year, full-time degree.
  • There’s confusion about terminology, and a lack of robust evidence about outcomes for students pursuing different pathways.
  • Prospective students, apprentices, and their advisers find it difficult to locate, compare, and evaluate different pathways and learning options.
  • Each pathway has progression challenges which may not be apparent to students or apprentices before they embark on their programmes.

Progression pathways 2017 resources


Our comprehensive report (1.56 MB) provides a brief description of each pathway and its current status in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. In the report, we consider the opportunities and challenges for students, apprentices, advisers, and further and higher education providers. These are grouped under the headings of ‘Access and availability’, ‘Recognition and progression’, and ‘Widening participation’.

Video 1: Pathways through higher education

This animated video gives an overview of the range of pathways available to achieve a bachelor’s degree. It shows how the higher education system is inclusive, and how pathways which enable progression in an incremental way – often allowing students to work while studying – meet the needs of students of different ages and life circumstances. 

Progression pathways 2017 – routes through higher education

An overview of the different pathways to achieving a degree.

Video 2: Degree apprenticeships in focus

This video is based on interviews with a number of higher education providers and apprentices, showing how degree apprenticeships have opened up a whole new range of opportunities for both. It looks at both the benefits and the challenges, focusing on selection and recruitment, widening participation, partnerships with employers, development of apprenticeship programmes, and how higher education providers’ thinking may need to change to fully embrace this new pathway. 

Progression pathways 2017 – degree apprenticeships in focus

An introduction to the implementation of degree apprenticeships – the opportunities and challenges.

The initial progression pathways project (2016) examined how qualifications other than A levels and Scottish Highers can support access to higher education, and the importance of qualifications' 'fit' with higher education courses, to ensure students undertake the most appropriate qualifications to match their ability, learning style, and provide appropriate preparation for the type of higher education course they aspire to complete. We released a  report (1.19 MB), accompanied by a range of information and advice for students, advisers, and higher education providers.