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Types of qualification

The four UK countries have some qualifications (such as degrees) in common, but there are others that are specific to a country (such as Scottish Highers or the Welsh Baccalaureate). In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the level of difficulty of courses is graded on a scale of 1-8, and in Scotland it is graded on a scale of 1-12. The types of qualifications and their levels of difficulty are shown in the table that can be downloaded below.

If you hold overseas qualifications and wish to know how they compare with UK qualifications, see the website of the National Academic Recognition Information Centre (NARIC).


Work-related (vocational) qualifications

Work-related (vocational) qualifications are designed to give you the knowledge and skills necessary to perform a specific role. The courses are long and short, and at various levels. They are available from a number of awarding bodies, including the Royal Society for Public Health, City and Guilds and Edexcel.

The National Database of Accredited Qualifications (NDAQ) contains details of qualifications that are accredited by the regulators of external qualifications in England (Ofqual), Wales (DCELLS) and Northern Ireland (CCEA).


Short Courses and Modules

Whatever stage you are at in your career, a short course or module could give you a specific public health skill that may help you in your role. Often a big course is built up of modules on different subjects, and these can be studied individually. Ask the course provider for more information.

Short courses and modules can be a useful step towards a higher qualification. Many universities have adopted the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS), and can take into account credits you have gained by previous study (if the learning is relevant to the university course you want to study and is not out of date).


Access Courses

Access Courses are designed for people who would like to study at university but who left school without the usual qualifications, such as A levels or Highers. They are run at Further Education colleges and adult education centres, have no entry requirements and can be full- or part-time.

The Access to Higher Education website has a database of courses and further information. 


Foundation Degrees and Diplomas of Higher Education

Foundation degrees (FdA, FdSc) take two years to complete, and are available to those already in work, those wishing to embark on a career change and to students who have completed level three qualifications (e.g. A-levels, Advanced Apprenticeships or NVQ level 3). The qualification can usually later be converted into an Honours Degree by taking a further year of study.

Some foundation degrees will give you an overall picture of public health issues, and may have titles like: “Public Health”, “Health and Wellbeing” or “Health and Social Care”. Other foundation degrees are available in specific areas of public health and might have titles like: “Sport, Health and Fitness”, “Environmental Health”, or “Occupational Health, Safety and Environmental Management”. 

For more information about Foundation degrees, see Foundation Degree Foward, which provides a course listing (searchable by keyword).

Diplomas in Higher Education (Dip HE) take two or three years to complete. Examples of Dip HE qualifications directly relevant to public health that have been advertised in the past are: “Food, Nutrition and Consumer Protection”, “Human Nutrition”, “Physical Activity and Health”.


Honours Degrees

There is a very wide range of degree courses in different areas of Public Health. They are mainly offered by universities, although some Further Education colleges offer them too. A degree usually requires 3 or 4 years of full-time study, but you can usually study part-time if you want to continue to work, and there are often options for distance learning, requiring you to visit the college or university only occasionally.

If you successfully complete the course, you will be awarded a degree title related to the subject you studied, such as BA (Bachelor of Arts) or BSc (Bachelor of Science), and your degree will be graded first class, upper second class (2:1), lower second class (2:2), third, or pass (without honours).

There are many degrees that have a relevance to public health. Some are general degrees in “Public Health”, others are in specific areas, such as “Specialist Community Public Health Nursing”, “Midwifery”, “Diet, Nutrition and Health”, “Environmental Health”, or  “Health Promotion”. Many degrees, such as Geography or Architecture, could potentially lead to a career in public health after further training (see the Faculty of Public Health pages on training to be a specialist in public health).


Higher Degrees

Higher degrees fall into two categories: masters' degrees (MA, MSc) and doctoral degrees (PhD, DPhil).

A master's degree is generally a taught courses with a research element, and they usually take one year full-time or two years part-time. You could think about taking a master's degree in Public Health.

If you want to do three or more years of research, you could apply for a doctoral degree.  A doctoral qualification in an area of public health could lead to an academic career teaching and researching on public health issues.


Professional qualifications

The Faculty of Public Health administers the Membership of the Faculty of Public Health (MFPH) examinations. MFPH is one of the requirements for completion of specialty training in public health and entry onto the specialist register of the General Medical Council (GMC) or the UK Public Health Register (UKPHR).

Entry to the MFPH examinations, however, is not restricted to those on a public health specialty training scheme. Anyone with a university degree is eligible to apply and MFPH is a recognised professional qualification indicating a competent practitioner in public health.

The MFPH consists of the Part A and the Part B (OSPHE) examinations. The Part A examination is intended to test a candidate's knowledge and understanding of the scientific bases of public health. The Part B examination is designed as a ‘show how' assessment of the candidate's ability to apply relevant knowledge, skills and attitudes to the practice of public health. Success in the Part A examination leads to election into Diplomate Membership, and the use of the designatory letters DFPH, while success in the Part B examination leads to election into Full Membership of the Faculty of Public Health (MFPH).

For further information, see the Faculty of Public Health examination pages.


More information

If you want to read more about the different types of qualification, the following will be useful:

  • Ofqual  
  • Careers Advice  
  • Directgov  
  • Skills for Health 


Document downloads

  • Qualifications comparison chart
    Microsoft Word document, 142 KB

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