How Do NVQs Stack Up Against Degrees?

Author: Category: Category: Apprenticeships Date: 18th June, 2013

In the UK, we are lucky to have one of the most diverse educational systems in the world, offering a huge amount of different opportunities to everyone, regardless of their interests. This can also pose a problem though – albeit a welcome one – in that many people simply don’t know where to turn when it comes to their next step on the educational ladder.


One of the big questions on many peoples’ lips is whether other options are actually as good as going to university, and this is especially true when it comes to NVQs. This article will look at how they compare to their more illustrious cousins and help you decide which path to take as you prepare for your next step in the world of education.

What is the Value of NVQ’s to Employers?

The first comparison to make between NVQs and degrees is which one will be of more value to an employer, and the answer is not that easy. This is due to the fact that NVQs are usually offered in specific areas and therefore they are incredibly valuable to employers in that area, but almost worthless outside of the niche. For example, an NVQ 5 in construction will be great when looking for jobs in that industry, but won’t help to gain employment in, for example, an office. University degrees, however, are usually much more flexible, however they don’t focus in on specific industries generally.

Taking the above into account, it shows that NVQs are the perfect step for those with a clear idea of what they want to do in life, particularly if they want to move into more practical careers such as plumbing, electrics or construction. Those with a vague idea of their future plans should opt for a degree – or a gap year – to give themselves the flexibility to make the choice later on in life.

What is the Value of NVQ’s Compared to a Degree?

The UK government has an ongoing campaign to raise the value of NVQ’s relative to a degree and A-levels.  If you ask most University lecturers, they’ll tell you that an NVQ 4 is equal to an ordinary degree.

The following should be treated as a rough comparison guide:

NVQ 1 = GCSEs D – G
NVQ 2 = GCSEs A* – C
NVQ 3 = A Levels
NVQ 4 = HNC/HND/Degree


Everyone knows that university degrees are now incredibly expensive, with a three year course often costing around £27,000 in tuition fees alone – something that makes education prohibitively expensive for many students. NVQs, on the other hand, are often completely free if taken through a local college and therefore present a much more realistic opportunity for many. Therefore, it goes without saying that an NVQ represents a much easier choice in terms of financial outlay.

Once an NVQ has finished, there is also no need to pay back any large loans, which can cripple graduates for many years after qualification. Of course, these loans can be worth it for many who move into lucrative industries, such as law and banking, but for others the cost doesn’t represent a good investment when they land a mediocre job. Therefore, an NVQ is the safe choice – the choice that won’t leave you with massive debts that potentially can’t be paid off for years.

Educational Methods

When it comes to the type of education offered by these two qualifications, the methods used are a mile apart. NVQs are designed to be practical courses with a more hands on element, while undergraduate degrees are academic and almost entirely classroom based. It isn’t wrong to say that many people simply don’t flourish in classrooms and fail to show their full potential, and if this sounds like you, an NVQ should be a much better choice. They are also much less intense – especially at the lower end of the scale – therefore they are perfect for those who don’t want to be in full-time education anymore.

It should be remembered that NVQs go all the way up to NVQ 8 level, which is the equivalent to PhD level, therefore candidates studying at this level will have a much larger workload. For most though, NVQ 5 is the highest they’ll work to – still about the equivalent to an undergraduate degree – and due to the longer amount of time taken to gain compared to a degree and the amount of on-the-job assessment, it still means that the work load is often less.

Therefore, it is safe to say that an NVQ is perfect for those who don’t see themselves as quite “academic” enough to head to university. This is in no means a criticism though, as everyone has their own set of skills to offer the world – an NVQ can often be the key to unlocking these specific skills and beginning a great career.


In conclusion, it is fair to say that most people find the chance of having BSc or BA after their name to be an attractive lure – one that often sways them away from NVQs and towards the more expensive and more intense world of undergraduate study. The fact is though that, for many people, an NVQ represents the chance to get on the career ladder in a specific industry at an early age, and to become specialists in this industry over time – something that can also lead to great prestige and monetary reward.

The choice simply comes down to your own preferences and dreams. If you are a practical person with a clear goal in life, an NVQ could be a great choice; if you prefer to keep your options open and study a more general curriculum, an undergraduate degree could well be the way to go. Just remember, there is always the chance to change your mind if you don’t feel your choice is the right one, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to pick the perfect choice right now – many people have switched between an NVQ and degree (and vice versa) and are now incredibly successful within their chosen fields!

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