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AIM Qualification and Assessment Group

The “magic” of Access to Higher Education

Sally Howard believes in giving people a second chance at education. Here she talks about her experiences of Access to Higher Education.

For a long time, Access to Higher Education has been a misunderstood qualification in many ways. When I started my teaching career over 12 years ago, I soon realised the “magic” that Access to HE was. A unique level 3 qualification that is designed for those who want to progress to university and for whatever reason do not have the qualifications needed.

For many, this is their second chance. During my teaching career, I saw lots of students coming through Access to Higher education. People who had a dream career but had to wait for the right time, people who needed a second chance and some people who just wanted to go to university for themselves. Each student had a story, and this is part of the wonder of Access to HE. The course is a year-long and allows a quicker route to university than other level 3 qualifications. For many who are doing this course later in life, this is invaluable. It allows flexibility to be able to work, gain experience in their chosen fields and dedicate time to the assessments and study.

It’s all about the student

At AIM Qualifications, we offer a flexible approach to Access to Higher Education. From diploma choice and design, right through to the moderation model we offer. The vast choice of diplomas offered by AIM Qualifications means no degree is without reach and every year I love to see just how many degree students are progressing at all our centres. We have zoologists, teachers, nurses, historians and many, many more. 
Each diploma is designed with great insight to allow development in skills through the units, linking knowledge and building on it. The units
are all carefully designed to allow learners to develop key skills both professionally and for undergraduate study. One of my favourite aspects of Access to Higher Education is the journey students go on as they complete the diploma. Tutors have the autonomy to design assessments method in the best way they see fit. This is a fantastic opportunity for both the students and tutors; it allows tutors to design the course in a way which provides the best opportunity for student success. When teaching, this was invaluable as I would regularly change my assessments and teaching to meet the needs of the students and how they could best achieve their goals. 

The different Access to Higher Education study options

The flexibility of our approach allows the diplomas to be delivered in differing models. As moderation manager, I am lucky enough to see the different ways in which Access to Higher Education is successfully delivered whether this be, in a college setting, out in the community or via distance learning programmes. Our centres are able to offer a variety of delivery methods be this part-time study across two years, fast track programmes and January starts. Our distance learning centres provide an opportunity for students to begin the course whenever is right for them.

We have seen a lot of success across all of these models and especially the January starts. Domini Harrison, a student from Buxton and Leek college praised his experience of a January start: “The access course, January cohort of 2019, provided me with the tools, knowledge and ready mindset to tackle my forthcoming studies at degree level. The lecturers went above and beyond throughout the year of study and were instrumental in maintaining a positive experience as I returned to education after a few years out. I was inclined to choose the January start as it fit in with my life events, and Derby university was able to cater to this which prevented a delay in me returning to study. Overall, it was an amazing experience, and I am benefiting in my studies today because of the investment of time and effort, in addition to as a well-structured course, delivered by the Access Team.

Partnership and passion are key drivers

One thing that has always stood out to me about Access to Higher Education is that all those who are involved are passionate about it. From the students, teaching staff, moderators and QAA, each person wants to see the students succeed and this is reflected in the approach we take at AIM to provide support to all our centres and students. We offer year-long support be that advice regarding assessment design, unit choices, and other areas. We pride ourselves on the relationship we have developed with our centres and continue to develop. This plays a key part in the success of our Access to Higher Education diplomas.

To find more information on starting Access to Higher Education in January, take a look at

Or alternativley you can find out more on Access to Higher Education in general at

By Sally Howard, Moderation Manager at AIM.

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