Sign up

Have some pie!

Diploma-to-Degree: the success story of SQA in China

Since its launch 20 years ago, approximately 55,000 Chinese students have graduated with an Advanced Diploma delivered by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, with the pathway program acting as a significant contributor to the flow of Chinese students into the UK.

SQA is looking to expand the program to students in Vietnam. Photo: Unsplash

There are 104 SQA centres outside of the UK across South Asia and the Middle East

Known outside of Scotland as the SQA Advanced Diploma, the program mirrors the core principles and elements of the SQA HND program delivered to students domestically in its design, content and assessment standards.

Used by most students for advanced entry to second or third year of an undergraduate, international degree, traditionally Chinese students have seen the SQA Advanced Diploma as a pathway to study in the UK. It is often known as a “top up” program within UK higher education circles.

Currently, there are 104 SQA centres outside of the UK – across South Asia and the Middle East – and SQA is now working to get through the regulatory process in Vietnam too.

With increasing interest from the Americas too, expansion is expected.

Aisling Kelly, international regional manager at SQA, tells The PIE that although there were concerns that the Covid pandemic would cause numbers of enrolled students to dive, the opposite has been true, with the flexibility of the program providing Chinese students – and their parents – with a sense of “comfort”.

Its appeal is broadening, she adds. Destinations such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also becoming popular.

“The majority of our students are looking to do an international degree, and our Advanced Diploma offers a more cost-effective way for them to do it,” confirms Gillian Hepburn, head of international, SQA.

“The opportunity to stay in your home country for the first two years and then have that articulation… it’s a real end-to-end solution and it widens that access.”

Approximately 60% of students graduating with the Advanced Diploma in China will articulate on to some sort of a pathway to higher education, while around 40% stay in China for a pathway on to another degree or master’s, says SQA’s regional manager Kelly, adding that only a very low number go directly into employment.

As for the subjects of study, there are 15 frameworks available for Chinese students, with business and financial services being the most popular – that has been the case for 20 years.

“More than ever it’s really expensive to go overseas to study for three years whereas this is widening that opportunity out to families and learners,” adds Hepburn, who says the qualification appeals to families that “couldn’t possibly” consider funding across three years.

Successful agent, James Jing Wang, CEO, Beijing L&J Education Technology, tells The PIE that the Advanced Diploma became increasingly popular among graduates of international high schools during the pandemic, fuelled by their ambition to continue a global education, but worried about the health and safety dangers that came with studying abroad at this time.

Wang adds the program gives students the opportunity to achieve a balance somewhere between a traditional education and one which gives them international scope.

“Total tuition fees for the 3+1 program is approximately 50% cheaper than studying whole undergraduate program abroad,” Wang tells The PIE, highlighting higher living costs in the UK compared to China.

His agency alone provides service to approximately 500 students studying the top-up program per year in the UK.

In late 2019, when Wang saw high demand from Advanced Diploma graduates seeking further post-graduate study in the UK, he took the opportunity to rent a property which would become the agency’s Birmingham-based office in the UK, to better help serve Chinese students finding accommodation and post-graduate programs upon graduating from the pathway program.

Beijing L&J Education Technology opened a Birmingham office to meet demand from China’s Advanced Diploma graduates

The office officially opened in September 2022, after being delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Each year, SQA hosts an event in China with the deans and heads of centres to assess the quality of the Advanced Diploma, with the aim of addressing any issues that have arisen over the course of the year.

Six years ago, SQA listened to feedback from progression partners about students’ English proficiency and an English language entry requirement was introduced.

“Whatever we put in place had to complement our Diploma-to-Degree progression pathway,” explains Kelly. “So in 2020, in partnership with PSI services, we launched Skills for English tests on behalf of the Home Office.”

According to SQA, it has developed and quality assures the tests which it says provides a “comprehensive solution” for international customers looking to provide English language support for their students.

SQA has 50+ progression partners, with pathways for Advanced Diploma students mapped and agreed with institutions, but students are not restricted to these institutions and can apply to any university that will accept an Advanced Diploma.

The body is also keen to highlight that it is not competing with universities for students, and it is instead targeting a different subset of the market – learners who may assume they cannot afford to have an international study experience.

We believe that anyone who can afford to go for three years, straight to university, will still continue to do that

“We believe that anyone who can afford to go for three years, straight to university, will still continue to do that,” says Hepburn.

Yet, SQA is rolling out its activity elsewhere in the world and its spokespeople highlight that SQA centres opening in new locations could be beneficial to universities’ own recruitment strategies.

“The markets we are trying to move into will align with the markets the universities themselves are thinking about in terms of recruitment,” asserts Hepburn.

One successful alumni of the Advanced Diploma program confirmed its broad potential.

“This is a good option for people who don’t want to study in a foreign country for a long period,” says Shelley Liu, a student who achieved an Advanced Diploma at Xiamen University in China. “It will be a good transition for people who have no experience of studying abroad.”

Liu went on to study an undergraduate degree in accounting, followed by a master’s degree at the University of Washington.

Mags Hutchinson, international articulation manager, SQA, concludes, “We’ve had really positive feedback about the calibre of student and how they’ve gone on to graduate and progress even further.”

Related articles

Still looking? Find by category:

Add your comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclaimer: All user contributions posted on this site are those of the user ONLY and NOT those of The PIE Ltd or its associated trademarks, websites and services. The PIE Ltd does not necessarily endorse, support, sanction, encourage, verify or agree with any comments, opinions or statements or other content provided by users.

To receive The PIE Weekly with our top stories and insights, and other updates from us, please