Higher Education

Higher Education

In the academic year 2019/20, South West College had the largest number of Higher Education students, both full time and part time, since the college’s formation, making SWC the largest provider of Higher Education outside of Belfast.

SWC enables access to higher education in rural areas in Northern Ireland, helping to ensure opportunities for students, as well as supporting economic development in the region by providing a  curriculum which meets the needs of local employers.

Each year, large numbers of students graduate from SWC with broad range of qualifications in various subject areas, validated by Ulster University, Queens University, and The Open University, as well as by other professional awarding organisations.

Industry Relevant and Flexible Learning options

South West College (SWC) offers a wide range of modern and industry-relevant Higher Education (HE) curriculum, delivered within a flexible learning environment. 

The College has a clear strategic vision to increase HE provision to ensure that it widens access, increases participation and supports economic development and job creation, particularly for the population of the South West region. 

SWC has worked strategically over the past 20 years to provide a high quality Higher Education offer that is affordable to students. It has overseen a growth in full-time and part-time provision, with the development of 37 HE programmes that incorporates 12 level 6 programmes, 18 foundation degrees and 12 Higher Level Apprenticeships. 

These qualifications have been developed and aligned to economic regional needs and priority skills requirements in accordance with the Northern Ireland Skills Barometer and the Sub-Regional Skills Barometer, which assess the future skills demand of industry for the local economy. This ensures that we are providing our students and the future labour market with the academic and practical skills to grow our economy. With a clear focus on the STEM agenda and creative industries, we offer programmes across a wide range of subject areas, including Business & Finance, Science & Technology, Engineering, Construction, Healthcare, Transport, Sport, Creative Arts, and Hospitality, the majority of which are linked to degree programmes in partnership with The Open University, Queen’s University and Ulster University. 

SWC aims to achieve high academic standards whilst addressing the vocational needs of local demand. Quality of provision is of utmost importance to SWC with external reviews acknowledging high standards of excellence. The key findings of a Quality Review Visit undertaken by The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) in March 2018, outlined that “There can be confidence that academic standards are reliable, meet UK requirements, and are comparable with standards set and achieved in other providers in the UK”.

Learning resources and support for students 

The College offers a wide range of support services and facilities to ensure that there is a supportive learning environment for all learners in each campus. 

The HE Academic Support Programme is available to all HE students studying across all campuses of SWC. The programme is part delivered via face-to-face workshops and virtually via the Digital Mentors. Services includes academic support for a range of study skills including academic writing, Harvard Referencing, plagiarism, presentation skills, research techniques, exam revision tips and proof-reading. HE Academic Support Officers are also available to meet students in small groups or on a one-to-one basis and can provide workshops on study skills and 

guides to independent learning, particularly prior to assessment submissions and during the pre-exam period. 

Our Learning Resource Centres offer an excellent range of services and facilities including an academic library and computer suite with a wide range of software tailored to the needs of our Higher Education students. Experienced staff guide students in accessing College systems, interactive technologies and resources, including academic research tools and study skills. Digital Mentors are also on hand to provide 1:1 and group support with digital learning and digital skills. 

The College’s Student Services team provides wide range of support, which is easily accessible on-site in each campus. This covers admissions, student finance, health & wellbeing, careers and learning support.

Higher Level Apprenticeships

A Higher Level Apprenticeship (HLA) is designed around high value and high skill activities and is currently: An apprenticeship with a targeted qualification between Level 4 (HNC equivalent) to Level 5 (Foundation degree or HND equivalent). Designed to help individuals develop professional and technical skills, as well as gaining recognised higher qualifications while in paid employment. The best combination of on-the-job training whilst at the same time enabling the apprentice to study for a higher level qualification to give you the knowledge businesses need in todays global marketplace. A desirable, cost effective and viable alternative to university education. One of the ways in which employers are now seeking to fill their higher level skills gaps efficiently and effectively by tailoring learning directly to the work place.

Find out more about Higher Level Apprenticeships

Part-time top-up Undergraduate Degrees

These new undergraduate pathways are an ideal articulation route for students that have already obtained a Foundation Degree or Higher National Diploma and seek the flexibility of part-time study close to home.​ Successful applicants will be eligible to enter onto the third year of a relevant BSc Hons and can complete their studies over three additional years part-time.

Find out more about our Top-up Degrees

Foundation Degrees

A Foundation Degree is a degree level qualification which combines academic study with work place learning. Designed in association with employers, they are qualifications to equip people with the relevant skills, knowledge and understanding to achieve academic results as well as improve performance and productivity in the work place. Foundation Degrees focus on providing core skills for a particular job or profession to increase employability skills for employers. A full-time foundation degree will take two years to complete, and part-time courses will normally take 3 years. However, at South West College a unique fasttrack option is also available part-time over 2 years (2 summer semesters included). Completing an honours degree following on from a foundation degree will normally take an extra two years.

Check out our Foundation Degrees

Fast track Foundation Degrees

Since 2013 the South West College has been offering ‘Fast Track’ Foundation Degrees in the areas of Computing, Construction, Building Services, Architecture, Engineering Management, and Sustainable Construction. This framework has been developed in partnership with the Ulster University and is specifically designed to enable work based learners to complete a part-time Foundation Degree in two years over six semesters supported by blended learning. This model of delivery provides greater flexibility for work based learners and is offered at a reduced fee of £1000 per year. For further information log onto: www.swc.ac.uk/contactus.


A Higher National Diploma (HND) is a workrelated course provided by higher and further education colleges in the UK. A full-time HND takes two years to complete, or three to four years part time. Generally an HND is equivalent to second year of a university degree and is a Level 5 qualification.

Check out our HND courses


A full-time Higher National Certificate (HNC) takes one year to complete, or two years part time. Many HNC courses cover the same subjects as an HND, but an HNC is one level below an HND. It’s generally equivalent to first year of a university degree and is a Level 4 qualification.

Check out our HNC courses

Please Note: All Foundation Degrees are accredited by either the Open University, Ulster University or Queen’s University Belfast and all have direct articulated pathways to honours degrees at each respective university or at South West College