Before we look at what is a Diploma or Degree, it is probably best to acknowledge what is meant by different ‘levels’ of study, and here, we will refer to those levels associated with England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland has a slightly different level structure).
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there are eight levels of study, and in an academic sense, a level of study reflects the depth of knowledge taught at each stage, as well as the quality of student output expected. The level structure is comparable to the different stages of the education system, and can be broken down as such:
Level 1 (13-120 credits) – GCSE level (grades D-G, or 3-1), Level 1 Certificate, Level 1 Diploma
Level 2 (13-120 credits) – GCSE level (grades A*-C, or 9-4), Level 2 Certificate, Level 2 Diploma
Level 3 (13-180 credits) – AS, A level, Level 3 Certificate, Level 3 Diploma/Extended Diploma
Level 4 (13-120 credits) – Year 1 Undergraduate Degree, HNC, Level 4 Certificate/Diploma
Level 5 (13-120 credits) – Year 2 Undergraduate Degree, HND, Level 5 Certificate/Diploma/Advanced Diploma
Level 6 (13-120 credits) – Year 3 Undergraduate Degree, Level 6 Certificate/Diploma/Graduate Diploma
Level 7 (13-180 credits) – Master’s Degree, Level 7 Certificate/Diploma/Postgraduate Diploma
Level 8 (120-540 credits) – Doctorate, DBA, DPhil, PhD, Level 8 Diploma
Diploma, Diploma of Higher Education, Higher National Diploma, Graduate Diploma; all different qualification levels, but consistent in their terminology – so what actually is a Diploma, what level of study does it equate to?
A Diploma qualification refers to the amount of learning credits a student will study and aim to achieve in a course, and can be awarded for any level (level 1-8), i.e. a Level 2 Diploma, Level 3 Diploma, Level 4 Diploma, Level 5 Diploma and so on.
Diploma qualifications can be used to proceed further to the degree programmes:
1) A student studying a Level 3 Diploma will study a course equivalent to A-Level standard and is also a qualification which can be used for entry on to a 3 Years Undergraduate Degree programme (360 credits).
2) A student studying a Level 4 & 5 Diploma (240 credits) will study a course equivalent to year 1 & 2 of Undergraduate Degree standard and is also a qualification which can be used for entry on to a Degree Top-Up or Year 3 of the Undergraduate Degree programme (120 credits).
3) A student studying a Level 6 Diploma (120 credits) will study a course equivalent to year 3 of Undergraduate Degree standard and is also a qualification which can be used for entry on to a Postgraduate Diploma or Master's Degree programme.
4) A student studying a Level 7 Diploma (120 credits) will study a course equivalent to 2/3 of Master's Degree standard and is also a qualification which can be used for entry on to a Master's Degree Top-Up programme (60 credits).
5) A student studying a Level 8 Diploma (160 credits) will study a course equivalent to part of a Doctorate Degree (DBA) standard and is also a qualification which can be used for entry on to a Doctorate Degree (DBA) programme with advanced standing.
A Bachelors degree (Level 4, 5 & 6) is generally the next step to study after A levels or Level 3 Diplomas. The most common titles are Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BSc). Bachelor degrees usually have the option to be studied ‘with honours’. Honours are awarded when 360 credits are achieved, compared to a non-honours degree with 300 credits. The extra points are most commonly awarded for a research project such as a dissertation. The honours element is abbreviated as part of the degree title e.g. BA (Hons).
Following a Bachelors degree the next level of study is a Masters degree (Level 7). The two most common titles are Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MSc). An MBA is another type of Masters degree but entry onto the programme requires business work experience in addition to a Bachelors degree. It is designed for professionals who want to progress to executive and senior management positions.
A Doctorate (PhD/DBA) is the highest level of research/academic degree. At Level 8, it requires students to produce an independent research project which can take years to complete. The qualification is highly regarded and many students use their Doctorates to become academics or industry researchers.
Normally, the diploma fees is about £1,000-£4,000 per level/year, whereas the degree fees is about £6,000-£15,000 per level/year.