The HNC qualification refers to the Higher National Certificate, a form of higher education certification that is offered in the United Kingdom. An HNC is narrowly focused on a specific field of work. It is similar to the HND, which stands for Higher National Diplomas, another vocational college program.
HNC curriculum in a wide range of fields is offered at more than 400 colleges and universities in the United Kingdom. The HNC has significantly fewer overall demands that a bachelor's degree, partly because of its narrow focus, and a full-time student can complete the requirements for an HNC in a single academic year. It typically takes two years for a part-time student to earn the certificate.
The HNC's focus on specific career fields means that many of the students pursuing the certification are workers who are looking to strengthen their credentials and to improve their knowledge in their fields. These students take courses in pursuit of HNC on a part-time basis, working around their job schedules. HNCs also are favored by full-time students who have specific careers in mind and are interested in entering the work force relatively quickly.
Receiving an HNC can serve as a first step toward studying for a bachelor's degree. A completed HNC typically will allow for its recipient to enter a bachelor's program as a second-year student. The HNC also can open doors relative to organizations within a student's chosen field. According to the United Kingdom government's website, the HNC is used by some professional bodies and employer organizations as a credential for admittance.
The HNC curriculum is focused on practical knowledge and experience in the field, targeting the skills that students will need when they pursue their chosen profession. For that reason, grades are determined less by test scores and more by performance on assignments and projects. The HNC ranks on the lowest end of the United Kingdom's Framework for Higher Education Qualifications, a scale that demonstrates how demanding a particular qualification is. The FHEQ levels run from 4 to 8, and the HNC is a 4, which is two levels below a bachelor's degree.