According to the UK Government's education information service (http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/QualificationsExplained/DG_10039026), the HNC (Higher National Certificate) and HND (Higher National Diploma) are higher educational qualifications. The courses are vocationally based and are for those who, at that time, choose not to study for a more academically focused bachelor's degree. Many HNC/HND students are currently employed and study part-time via distance learning. Both UK and international employers recognize the courses. Both private colleges and UK universities offer HNC and HND courses, and there are many distance learning combinations available.
HNC (Higher National Certificate)
HNC courses are generally one year in length of full-time study. Part-time study takes two years to complete. Once completed, if the student wishes to move on to a bachelor's degree, he will require another two years of study.
HND (Higher National Diploma)
HND courses are generally two years in length, full-time. Once an HND qualification is obtained, the student is allowed to complete a third year of a course in order to obtain a bachelor's degree. If the study is part-time, the course will take three to four years to complete.
Distance Learning Specifics
Both types of course are offered as distance learning opportunities. The benefit of distance learning is that the student can continue to work while in school. Many distance learning providers offer monthly payment options and the cost of study depends on the type of course, length of study, type of provider (state or private) and location of the student. Each student will have a designated online tutor, just as on-campus students have a subject tutor. Learning is via hard copy text, online webinars and self-study computer-based programs. Part-time study hours are approximately 10 hours per week.
International students can also study for HNC and HND qualifications with UK distance learning providers. However, generally the courses cost more for students based outside the UK than for those resident in the UK.
HNC and HND courses have more flexibility than traditional bachelor's degree options entrance requirements. Generally, the applicant should have at least one "A" level (Advanced Level General Certificate of Education) or comparable alternative. The UK Government offers a list of qualifications that are considered comparable qualifications to the "A" Level (http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/QualificationsExplained/DG_10039017)
Applications to national universities are via the University and Colleges Application (UCAS). Information can be accessed at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/UniversityAndHigherEducation/ApplyingForAHigherEducationCourse/DG_10013213. The UCAS Applications system opens one year in advance of the commencement of courses, and early application is recommended. Applications to private colleges are directly with the school.
HNC/HND Distance Learning Providers
UCAS (the body that handles all university applications in the UK) provides full information on the HNC/HND distance learning providers in the UK. Another useful source is http://www.whatuni.com/degrees/courses/HND-HNC-UK/qualification/N/list.html, which provides a directory of all HNC and HND subjects available in the UK with links to the relevant institution.