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Pathways to Space: Foundation Years & Foundation Degrees

  • 25th Aug 2023
  • Author: Grace Davis

Hello again from Em, your friendly neighbourhood space careers blogger...

We’re kicking off our new series of posts discussing the different career options and pathways in the space sector, with a topic I’m very passionate about: Foundation Years. Several members of my family, myself included, have been able to access university education by studying a Foundation Year or a Foundation Degree. Both types of course open the doors several different steps, but what actually are they?

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Both Foundation Years and Foundation Degrees are courses studied at university, both will have lower entry requirements than the standard bachelor’s degree in a subject, and both will cover part of a bachelor’s degree. Beyond these similarities, the two courses start to look very different. Foundation Years and Foundation Degrees are available for most subjects taught as bachelor’s degrees in the UK, but not every university will offer these types of courses for every subject. If you think one is right for you, do some research into what subject will be best for you, and which universities or colleges offer those subjects.

A Foundation Degree is very career focused, giving you the skills and knowledge, you need for a particular job. They run for two years, rather than the usual three for a bachelor’s degree, so are perfect if you’re uncertain about the time or financial commitment of a full bachelor’s degree. Once you’ve completed a Foundation Degree you usually have the option to continue for another year to gain your bachelor’s degree.

There are no set entry requirements for Foundation Degrees. Exactly what each course is looking for will vary by subject and university, but it is common to find that formal qualifications aren’t needed at all for a Foundation Degree. With practical experience being so important to a Foundation Degree, you’ll often find that previous jobs you’ve had will count towards the entry requirements for the course. On some courses, you might even find that the training you’ve already received at work can count towards the work on your course, but this will vary in a case-by-case situation.

All this makes Foundation Degrees perfect for people with no, or fewer formal qualifications, those looking to change career later in life, and those who took a more vocational option in their last few years at school. Of course, people who have taken a different route than those mentioned can still study Foundation Degrees.

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A Foundation Year is an additional year at the start of a bachelor’s degree, designed to help people who don’t meet the entry requirements for the regular bachelor’s degree boost their knowledge before joining the standard course. Like a Foundation Degree, a Foundation Year is great for those who are changing careers, have fewer formal qualifications, lower exam grades or who took a more vocational route. I actually studied a Foundation Year at the start of my bachelor’s degree, because my A Level exam grades were too low to join the standard bachelor’s degree.

Friends on my course came from a rage of backgrounds including those who had studied A Level topics unrelated to the course, people who worked at apprenticeships after their GCSE exams, people looking to change careers after working elsewhere and people who left school before sitting any exams. At the end all of us had the knowledge and skills to join the new class of students starting the standard bachelor’s course.

One of my favourite parts of the Foundation Year was being able to start my degree covering topics I knew a little bit about, which made it less overwhelming. The thought of struggling with my university work as much as I had my A Level work, and trying to adjust to living away from my family for the first time was super scary, and getting a confidence boost when I understood a topic on my course really helped.

As much as I loved doing a Foundation Year, there are some downsides, as there are with any course. By adding an extra year on to your degree, the financial impact of a Foundation Year is a big worry for a lot of people. Student finance for Foundation Years works the same way as it would for any other bachelor’s degree, so the system is easy and won’t change during your course, but it will mean you eave with a larger student loan than someone studying a standard bachelor’s degree. You’ll pay your loan back at the same rate regardless of whether you study a Foundation Year or not, so you won’t see the difference in your paycheque. The other downside to a Foundation Year is that they are often tied to a specific course at a university. This means that if you want to change courses or universities after your Foundation Year, it could be very difficult or even impossible to switch.

As with anything, it's important to weigh up the positives and negatives to find out what's going to be right for you! Keep your eyes peeled for the next in our Pathways to Space series, where we'll be exploring Master's degrees, or find more NSA careers resources here.