Q&A: Nursing degree and diploma – the differences?


Choices adviser Shona McQuillan answers some frequently asked questions about two of Birmingham City University’s popular undergraduate nursing programmes.

What’s the main difference between the nursing degree (BSc Hons) and diploma (Dip HE) courses?

The main difference between the courses is the academic level at which students complete their studies. Students on the diploma course complete a total of 72 credits at level 4 and 168 credits at level 5 throughout the course. Degree students complete 120 credits in each year of the course, studying at level 4 in year one, level 5 in year two and level 6 in year three. The degree course, therefore, is more academically intensive than the diploma course. This is reflected in the degree requiring students to have higher entry qualifications than for the diploma. Find out more about the minimum entry requirements for both courses by clicking on the course titles here.

Is the diploma course more practical than the degree?

Not really. Both courses consist of 50 percent theory and 50 percent practice.

Does the degree take longer to complete than the diploma?

No. Both courses are studied over 3 years on a full-time basis.

Is funding for the degree and diploma courses the same?

No. The funding for the courses differ slightly – whilst the NHS currently pay the tuition fees for both courses, the maintenance element of the NHS Bursary for the degree course is means-tested on household income. However, the diploma course attracts a non means-tested maintenance element which is unaffected by the level of household income. Further information about the different rates available for each of the courses is available at www.nhsstudentgrants.co.uk.

Will I start on a higher salary if I’ve completed the degree course?

In terms of starting salary grades for newly qualified registered nurses, currently there is no difference in starting grades or pay for degree or diploma qualified nurses.

Can I switch onto the degree after the second year of the diploma course?

No. Our courses are structured in such a way that means students on the diploma do not complete the same number of academic credits as degree students have during the first two years of the course. Because of this shortfall, diploma students don’t have sufficient credits to transfer into the final year of the degree. 

If I study the diploma will I be able to gain a degree at a later stage?

Yes. Students who complete the diploma programme can top-up their qualification once they’re a registered nurse – we offer a wide range of courses available to qualified nurses which would allow them to do this. Many courses are offered on a part-time basis allowing students to study whilst they’re working, too.

I’ve got more questions about the nursing courses at Birmingham City University. Is there someone I can chat to about them?

Of course! Please feel free to get in touch with an adviser here at Choices – we’ll be happy to help you with any other queries you may have. Call us on 0121 331 5595 or, if you’d prefer, drop us a line.

63 thoughts on “Q&A: Nursing degree and diploma – the differences?

  1. Can you tell me how I get information on a degree course I allready have a diploma.

    Yours sincerely
    Carole Williams

  2. Hi Carole

    There are a range of options to allow you to top-up a Diploma in Nursing to a degree. If you’d like to find out more about what’s available at Birmingham City University, please visit http://www.bcu.ac.uk/health/lbr/cpd/full-credit-bearing.

    You can find our contact details under the ‘about’ section if you’d like to get in touch with any further queries.

  3. Hi Maxine

    You’ll need to contact the School of Health where you previously studied in order for them to determine whether you are able to resit any elements of your course or retake your training. If you previously studied at Birmingham City University, please contact our switchboard on 0121 331 5000 who can put you through to the appropriate department.


  4. Can you advise me the advantages of undertaking the degree
    course if the starting salary is the same for the diploma

  5. Leanne – this largely dependent upon the individual. If someone prefers a slightly less academically intensive course, the diploma has the advantage of this. The bursary rates for both courses are different, so some may find the type of bursary that is offered to diploma students more advantageous for them than the means-tested bursary offered to degree students.

    Ultimately, is is for the individual to decide which course best suits their aspirations and circumstances.


  6. I have a degree in English Language from a University outside EU and have also got a Certificate in Health Social and Care from Open University, passed out with distinction. My certificate from Open University I learnt can be used in accessing higher studies. It is a 60 point course at Level 3, which i think is equivalent to 60 points out of 120required to complete first year of University level.

    I am interested in registering for Bsc (Hons) Nursing, but looking through the entry requirements, I don’t really understand how it apply to my situation. I have got 5 credits in my WASCE (West Africa School Leaving Certificate Examination), which is equivalent of GCSE, with credits in both English and Maths and other subjects which are not Science related. However, I did a bit of Psycholgy and Sociology courses while undergoing my degree.

    I am willing to do a Naric assessment of my Certificates, but just want to know what my chances are with my qualifications. Thank you

  7. what is the difference between the graduate diploma, the nomal diploma and the degree nursing in terms of career development and promotion since there’s no difference in the starting salary. I already have a degree in Biochemistry and want to do nursing now but dont know which route to choose. Thanks.

  8. @Toyin We would need to see a transcript of your degree for us to determine the appropriateness of any science content you have previously studied. If it can be shown that there is sufficient suitable content that tallies with our minimum entry requirements, we could then possibly consider you for our degree course. A NARIC assessment of the comparability of your qualifications would help to clarify this.

    @Dulcie Career development and promotion prospects can vary depending upon the area of nursing that a nurse is practicing in. Often, for more senior clinical roles, a degree level qualification would be a minimum requirement. Diploma level qualified nurses often have the opportunity to top-up their qualification to a degree.

    Both the BSc (Hons) Nursing and the Graduate Diploma in Nursing courses are studied at undergraduate degree level.

    As you already have a degree in Biochemistry, the Graduate Diploma course would really be the most appropriate course for you as it takes into account prior relevant academic learning enabling you to train in a shorter period of time.

  9. I am a teacher and looking to change career to that of nursing- I already have a first degree (history and pgce)- would I still be able to apply for the diploma or bsc?

  10. I have a degree in Geography & Regional Planing, from a university outside UK, and i also have 5 credit in GCE which includes English, Maths and Chemistry.

    I would like to have a degree in Nursing(Bsc), but do not know how to go about it. If am also qualify for it.

  11. @Kev We are happy to consider graduates for entry onto either our BSc (Hons) Nursing or Dip HE Nursing courses and would encourage you to submit an application through UCAS for 2010 entry if you are interested in either adult, child or mental health nursing.

    @Sandy We are happy to consider applications from graduates with degrees in other subjects for both our degree and diploma courses in nursing. We would encourage you to complete and submit an application through UCAS if you wish to be considered for either course. Please note that all applicants are required to have GCSE mathematics and English at grade C or above in addition to other academic entry requirements for our nursing courses. At present, we do still have a few vacancies for the learning disabilities branch of the diploma course commencing in April 2010. If you’re interested in this course, please contact the Clearing Hotline on 0121 331 6777. For other branches of nursing, you will need to apply through UCAS between September and January.

  12. Hi there, just wondering if there was any way of continuing my nursing studies without starting from the beginning. I got to the end of the third year of the degree programme and failed my professional portfolio due to extreme mitigating circumstances, by the time i had reached the end od the third year i had come to the end of the five year window. Do you have any advice
    regards claire

  13. I am really confused i dont know whether to do the degree or enhanced diploma? i dont mind doing the diploma if both starting pay rates are the same. ( degree and diploma) the diploma is for 3 years .. how would i go about doing a top up degree on the 4th year in neonatal nursing or something like that?? is that possible. full time?

  14. I am a bit confused about the degree structure. As soon as the course starts are you always working in a hopsital/clinical setting fulltime alongside lectures?

  15. @ claire. You will need to contact the Admissions Tutor to discuss your individual circumstances with them. Please call 0121 331 7110 to get in touch with them.

    @mimi Students who complete the diploma in nursing can then top-up their degree through a post-registration degree course. If you wish to specialise in neonatal nursing after qualifying, it’s often necessary to undertake a year or two of professional practice before applying to complete the top-up degree so that you are able to meet any clinical competencies that may be required within the course. For more information about our post-registration degree courses, please see http://www.bcu.ac.uk/health/lbr

    @Phoebe For both the degree and diploma course offered at Birmingham City University, students attend university for blocks of study and then undertake blocks of placement, so you’re not studying and undertaking placements at the same time. This format of study and placement blocks continues throughout the course.

  16. hello
    i am studying btec national certificate in health and social care
    i would like to study degree in nursing but i don’t have a any gcse’s after my course do i have to do extra gcse or A levels.

  17. @serap For the degree in Nursing, we are now looking for applicants to achieve 240 tariff points, so you would need to achieve Distinction Distinction grades in your National Certificate. We do also look for applicants to offer 5 GCSEs at grades A-C including maths, English and preferably science alongside a suitable BTEC qualification.

    You could undertake the required number of GCSEs, ensuring that you include the required subjects. Alternatively, if you were to achieve Key Skills level 2 qualifications in Application of Number and Communication, we could consider these qualifications alongside a BTEC National Certificate for entry onto the Diploma in higher Education in Nursing course.

  18. I am in my third and final year at Derby university training to be a music therapist. To become a practicing music therapist however I will need to complete another 2 years MA, but I have always been interested in nursing, either general or learning disabilities. Once I have graduated my current course (Creative Expressive Therapies), what would be the best route for me to get onto a nursing course? Would I need to do all 3 years, or could it be shortened as I already would have a degree?

  19. Hi,
    I would like to go to uni to do nursing, my current qualifications mean i can only do the diploma, I am getting really confused of what type of nursing this covers?

    I would like to be a nurse in A+E, or maybe a theater nurse will the diploma cover this?
    If not what are the entry requirements for a degree?

    I would be very grateful if you could help me, i am getting very confused, and time is running out to apply for 2010/

    Thank you


  20. @Asha – you would need to complete the full 3 years of training as your first degree is in an unrelated subject. You could consider undertaking the BSc (Hons) Nursing course.

    @Claire – the Diploma in Nursing offers the opportunity to either train as an Adult, Childrens, Mental Health or Learning Disability nursing. If you wish to specialise in a particular area this tends to be done once you have qualified. If you wanted to eventually work in A&E or theatre nursing, the Adult nursing branch would be the one you would need to initially train in.

  21. After the three year nursing diploma. I would like to do a degree in midwifery how long will that take. will it take 18 months?

  22. @Angela The Nursing and Midwifery Council have announced the intention to phase out diploma courses so that all nurse training courses are offered at degree level by 2013. However, diploma qualified nurses have a range of opportunities to ‘top-up’ their qualification to a degree once they are working. For top-up degrees, students usually either usually fund themselves or gain sponsorship from their employer. Top-up courses can be completed in as little as one year on a full-time basis or two years part-time. See http://www.bcu.ac.uk/health/lbr for more information about top-up degrees.

    @Antonia If you complete the Adult branch of the three year nursing diploma, you can undertake a shortened degree course of 18 months in order to qualify as a midwife. If you qualify in any branch other than Adult nursing, then you would have to undertake the full three year midwifery degree in order to gain this professional qualification.

  23. hie
    i am currently in my final year at university studying at degree level. i really want to become a midwife and im in the progress of appplying for 2010. am i right in thinking that i still have to undergo the bsc degree or is there a diploma equivalent im so confused.thanks xxx

  24. @Dionne It really depends on what degree you’re currently studying. If you’re studying an Adult Nursing degree, then you could undertake a shortened 18 month course to gain a second professional registration as a midwife. If your degree is in anything other than Adult Nursing, you would normally need to complete the full 3 year degree course in order to become a midwife. Midwifery training is only offered at degree level.

  25. Hiya!!!!!!!
    I studied in Fiji. 6 yrs each for primary and secondary. three years Fiji School of Nursing and completed my diploma in Nursing, i.e general. we do all fields as in peads, mental health, medical, surgical and maternity. (not entirely specialised in one area) and have a two and a half years of experience as R/N. Left the profession about a year ago to come overseas. have been staying home ever since and m not sure what steps to take to get a degree in nursing. I’m also interested in doing midwifery. can i do the shortened course since i already have a diploma even though it was done overseas???

    1. You may be able to gain professional registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) by undertaking an Overseas Nursing Programme. You need to have NMC registration in order to be able to apply for the shortened midwifery course. Further information about the Overseas Nursing Programme can be found at http://www.nmc-uk.org/aArticle.aspx?ArticleID=1653.

  26. Hi,
    i ve got a degree in biological sciences,biochemistry to be precise.is there any accelerated nursing degree programme i can enrol for? i want to take a nursing degree which doesnt require much yrs in the university.

  27. Hi!
    I am 30yrs, I am Hungarian, but I live in the UK. I would like to be a Nurse. I finished my study in Hungary when I was 18 yrs. It is equal with A-Levels? I have Key Skills Level-2: English and Maths. I will finish with a NVQ2 in Child Care next month, and I will start with a NVQ3 in Child Care. Which course would be the best choise for me? Diploma or Degree?

    1. @ Timea We are happy to consider applications from students with non UK qualifications which are equivalent to A level standard. Applications from students offering such qualifications are assessed on an individual basis upon receipt of a completed application.

      If you wish to check the UK equivalence of your qualifications before making an application please contact the National Academic Recognition Centre, http://www.naric.org.uk for an equivalence assessment.

      If you have qualifications to the equivalent of UK A-levels, you could consider applying for the degree. Otherwise, you could opt for the Diploma course.

  28. Hi,

    I’m currently in my second year of a Biomedical Science degree, and I’m now beginning to realise that I’d like to take a midwifery course after graduating.
    Anyone know where can I find info about the graduate diploma for midwifery?


    1. Unfortunately, we don’t offer a graduate diploma in midwifery at Birmingham City University. You could try searching for institutions offering a shortened programme on the UCAS website at http://www.ucas.ac.uk. Alternatively, we are happy to consider graduates with relevant degrees for entry onto our BSc (Hons) Midwifery course and would encourage you to submit an application to us through UCAS once you are in the final year of your degree.

  29. Hi! I had my bachelors degree in nursing in the Philippines and I want to enrol for MSc but they said I have to take grad diploma first!why is it?and would u give me advise on what’s best to specialize in nursing??I’m only 26 y.o currently working in nursing home!what is the most indemand and good paid??

    1. For further information and advice about careers in the NHS, including pay rates, please visit http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk. As you are qualified overseas, you will need to gain registration as a professional nurse with the Nursing and Midwifery Council in the UK. For many of our postgraduate courses you would need to have acquired this professional registration prior to embarking on the course. I’m unable to comment on behalf of any other institutions with whom you have may been in contact about postgraduate study options.

      To contact the Nursing and Midwifery Council, please visit their website at http://www.nmc-uk.org/aArticle.aspx?ArticleID=1587 for contact information.

  30. Hi there, sorry to bother you but I’m interested in undertaking a nursing degree/diploma in either adult or mental health and just need a bit of advice before I take the plunge!
    I have completed a Psychology degree 2006 so have an interest in mental health nursing but have been told as its a specialised field there are less jobs available and that once you complete this you can’t move into another form of nursing without completing another ful degree/diploma.
    I am interested in adult nursing but also wanted to incorporate something of my previous degree and was wondering if I could do adult nursing degree and then a post-registration course in mental health if you can do this? Method behind the madness is that I’d be qualified in a wider range thus have better chances when it comes to careers/career changes.
    I’ve heard that the diploma courses are being phased out in 2011, alhtough many people appear to be going for them mainly due to the non-means tested bursaries, but then swapping over to a degree towards the end (although I have seen other information stating this isn’t possible as diploma students wont have enough credits to complete the degree).
    Apologies for the long emailbut I hope you can help!
    Thanks, Emma

    1. As you have a degree, you could consider our Graduate Diploma in Nursing qualification. There are still ongoing discussions about the future of the Graduate Diploma so I can’t provide further information other than it’s still due to run in April 2010. You are also welcome to apply for the BSc (Hons) Nursing RN in the event that the Graduate Diploma course was full or no longer offered. There are conversion courses at other institutions which would enable you to gain an additional registration as a mental health nurse once you are already a qualified adult nurse. We don’t offer a transition to the degree part-way through the diploma due to the structures of the courses not being comparable.

  31. Hi, i did a degree in psychology but now would like to train to be a mental health nurse. do you do a Msc in nursing (Uni of Essex do) as opposed to a graduate diploma in nursing?

    1. We only offer the Graduate Diploma in Nursing at Birmingham City University and not a masters degree route to gaining an initial nursing qualification.

  32. Would like to apply for BSc Hons in Nursing and have General Nursing level 1 and General Intensive Care Nursing recorded entry on the register. Where could I find information on points for the existing qualification? Many thanks

    1. You can contact our Personal Development Centre on 0121 331 7011 for more information about accreditation for propr learning.

  33. Hi
    I am 54 in March and willhave to do a nursing access course before I can apply and hopefully enter onto a diploma nursing course in Feb2011.
    As I am this age already and by time I finish training, is this any detriment to myself, will I still beable to get employment in a hospital after that, i.e.will they think I am too old. I am certainly not that age in look of behavior.

    1. Hi Susan

      No, there’s no age limit for our nurse training courses and we have students of a wide range of ages studying with us. We welcome applications from suitably qualified mature applicants.

  34. Hello,
    I have a BTEC National diploma in social care and a BEd Primary honours degree. Can I apply for the fast track Graduate Dip in Nursing??
    or must I do the 3yr BSc
    (i have received differing replies so rather confused!)

    1. Hi Deb

      It depends on the content of your degree as to whether it’s something we could consider for our Graduate Diploma in Nursing. Our Personal Development Centre can assess your degree and provide you with confirmation of its eligibility for consideration for the course. You can contact them on 0121 331 7011. Please note that all applicants must have GCSE maths and English at grade C or above or an appropriate equivalent.

  35. I just finished my diploma in Nursing programme 3years. Unfortunately I could not pass the Registered nursing board exam to be an RN. I want to study a Degree in Nursing in UK. Will I be admitted into the nursing Topup degree without the RN in any UK universities? Pls advise what to do. I still love the Nursing profession.

    1. Hi Kris

      In order to be able to qualify as a nurse, you must complete an approved programme of study that leads to professional registration. In terms of the best way you may be able to achieve this, it will depend on how long ago you started your training. when you stopped the course and possibly the reasons for why you didn’t fully complete the qualification to gain professional registration. Please contact the Admissions Team on 0121 331 5500 to talk to them in more detail about this if you still wish to try and gain the full professional qualification.

      If you don’t wish to gain professional registration as a nurse and would just like to pursue a health-related top-up degree, you may be able to undertake non-clinical aspects of our Dimensions in Health Care degree. Further information about this can be found at http://www.bcu.ac.uk/courses/health/lbr/cpd/dimensions-in-healthcare. If you would like to talk to the course’s Professional Navigator, please telephone 0121 331 6162.

  36. hi

    Im looking into doing a adult nursing degree but my GCSE’s are lower then C’s i have a GNVQ in science what would i have to do to meet the standard?

    1. @Cassie For the degree course, we typically look for A-level qualifications or equivalent plus appropriate GCSEs. The options would be to retake your GCSEs so that you have a total of 5 at grade C or above and then to perhaps take either 3 A-levels (including a subject such as Biology, Sociology or Psychology) or a BTEC National Diploma in Health Studies.

      Alternatively, you could consider taking an Access to Nursing course at a local college, as you can undertake appropriate maths and English GCSE equivalence within the Access course whilst also studying health/science related level 3 subjects, making it a course we can consider for entry onto our degree. Have a look at our blog post about Access courses at http://blogs.bcu.ac.uk/choices/mature-students/access-courses/ for more information about this type of qualification.

      Please note that if you’re thinking about applying for the nursing degree course commencing in 2011 and choose to study an Access course, our entry requirements may be changing and it’s likely that you will need to take English within the Access course at level 3 and you would also need to resit maths as an actual GCSE qualification alongside the Access course (and not as an equivalent within the Access course) in order to meet our numeracy requirement.

  37. heya i am thinking of doing a diploma in adult nursing however i would like to know if the phrase out of the diploma in 2013 will affect me getting a job after i gain the diploma.

    1. Hi Samera

      We are due to offer the last intake of our Diploma in Nursing course in April 2011 for the Adult, Mental Health and Learning Disability branches only. Students who successfully complete all of the required elements of the course will have a valid professional qualification and can register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council for professional registration after the course has been completed. Diploma qualified nurses can apply for appropriate jobs and may then have the opportunity to ‘top-up’ to gain a degree level qualification once they are working. Whilst some roles in nursing may require a degree, such as more senior clinical roles, both diploma and degree qualified nurses tend to start at the same pay band, so are both usually considered for entry level band 5 roles.

  38. Hi Shona, even if i do the adult nursing diploma, when i do the top up degree can i specialise in childrens?

  39. I have been a nurse for 25 years, i trained as an SEN but due to bringing up a family never did my conversion to SRN. Now the conversion course is no longer running. would I have to do the full 3 year course to become a level 1 nurse or is there a short course i can do. I work full time as a nurse at present.

    1. Hi Julie

      It’s best that you contact the Nursing and Midwifery Council for further advice about this. You can contact them on 020 7333 9333.

  40. hi,
    Iam a SriLankan,have finished my 3 years diploma in general nursing in a private sector.and currently iam working as staff nurse.i don’t have registration in my country because i did in private sector,i would like to follow degree in UK.i need to, know after my degree, will i get registration in UK?and how long will i be able to work there?

    1. Hi Neel

      You will need to contact the Nursing and Midwifery Council who will assess your previous training and determine what you will need to do in order to be able to gain registered nurse status in the UK and be added to their professional register. You can contact them on 020 7333 9333.

  41. hi shona, i have done ANM AUXILLARY NSG AND MIDWIFE DIPLOMA IN INDIA for 18 months.currently,i am living in slough berkshire i am unable to find what should i do now.how i can register myself with nmc can you give me there e-mail or postal address one more thing my diploma which i have done in india has any value here. please help me i have little bit hesitation to speak english if i want to do ESOL is it good to do this.

    1. Hi Baljinder
      You will need to contact the Nursing and Midwifery Council who will assess your previous training and determine what you will need to do in order to be able to gain registered nurse status in the UK and be added to their professional register. You can contact them by email at advice@nmc-uk.org or write to them at the following address:

      Nursing & Midwifery Council
      23 Portland Place
      W1B 1PZ

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