What Is a Higher Certificate and Why Should You Consider Doing One?

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  • What is a Higher Certificate? 
  • What Level Is a Higher Certificate in Ireland?
  • Higher Certificate Requirements in Ireland
  • How Long Does It Take to Get a Higher Certificate? 
  • What Can You Do With a Higher Certificate? 
  • Why Study Higher Certificate Courses with Innopharma Education?

    What is a Higher Certificate? 

    Higher certificates are a level 6 qualification on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) in Ireland. Learners must complete 120 ECT (European credit transfer) credits to obtain a Higher Certificate in any discipline. 

    They are a type of higher education course that typically take one or two years to complete and are designed to provide students with specialised knowledge and skills in a particular field. Higher certificates are an excellent option for those looking to upskill or change careers, as they offer a more practical and applied approach to learning than a traditional degree program. 

    There are other different types of certificates that you can earn in Ireland at any level from 1- 9. These certificates are awarded based on the number of credits you complete and the skills you learn, but they may not be the same as earning a full degree at that level. For example, if you complete a program with 60 credits at Level 6 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ), you can earn a certificate. However, that wouldn’t necessarily also qualify you for a full degree at that level.

    Who Is It For?

    Higher Certificate qualifications are for anyone who wants to pursue a 3rd level qualification in their chosen area of interest to enhance their knowledge and skills in a particular area and to add value to their chosen career path. A Higher Certificate can also provide the pathway for a learner to obtain an Ordinary Degree (Level 7) in their chosen field.

    Is a Higher Certificate the Same as a Diploma? 

    In some instances a Diploma could be equivalent to a Level 7 qualification and, in others, it could equate to a level 5. When checking equivalency of these two qualifications, the NARIC database is essential. 

    The NARIC equivalency database will show what a qualification awarded from a specific institution/country equates to in the NFQ (national framework of qualifications). 

    What is the Difference Between a Higher Certificate and Advanced Certificate?

    The Higher Certificate should not be confused with the Advanced Certificate which is a two-year post-leaving certificate (PLC) program of further education, typically delivered by community colleges, and is also awarded at level 6 on the NFQ and can be used to gain entry to a third level programme.  

    The Higher Certificate is an award in Higher Education and follows the ECT system and is awarded after 120 credits have been completed on one programme. 

    The advanced certificate doesn’t follow the ECT system, however, still allows entry to L7 programmes in the cognate area.


    Higher Certificate (HC)

    Advanced certificate (AC)

    An award of higher education

    An award of further education

    Awarded by a third level institute

    Typically, a 2-year PLC programme offered by community schools

    Measured in ECT, must be 120 credits

    Not measured in ECT

    Allows access to level 7 programmes

    Allows access to level 7 programmes in the cognate area

    Typically, 2 years to complete

    Typically, 2 years to complete

    What Level Is a Higher Certificate in Ireland?

    The Higher Certificate in Ireland is an award of Level 6 in Higher Education with 120 ECT. 

    In other countries, an award equivalent to an Irish level 6 will be referred to a different term, however, as stated previously NARIC equivalence is the best way to check the level of a non Irish award. 






    Diploma of Higher Education



    Diploma confirming vocational qualifications/Diploma of completion of medical vocational study



    Diploma in Pharmacy/Post diploma/Advanced Diploma



    Higher vocational Education

    Higher Certificate Requirements in Ireland

    A Higher Certificate is a Level 6 qualification so entry level will vary from programme to programme depending on a range of factors. Typically to be eligible for a Higher Certificate in Ireland, a level 5/leaving certificate or equivalent qualification would be required for entry. 

    In certain circumstances, a candidate depending on their experience/age, could use an APEL (approved prior experiential learning) for entry. The APEL process considers the work experience an individual has gained in the field of the academic programme and measures the achievements over time to equate the experience to the equivalent learning outcomes of the entry requirement NFQ level.

    In some instances, entry onto a Higher Certificate programme will be granted without the level 5/leaving cert or equivalent as stated above for example where an individual is over 23 and considered a mature learner.


    How Long Does It Take to Get a Higher Certificate? 

    A Higher Certificate typically will take 2 years to complete. This can be done on a full time or part time basis. Many institutions, like Innopharma Education, also offer blended learning, which is a mix of online synchronous (live) classes, some asynchronous (recorded) material and face to face class and/or laboratory sessions.


    Two female students in a class taking notes


    Blended learning is a great way for people to gain qualifications while working as the classes are evenings and weekends with all mid-week classes being recorded for convenience to those who have evening commitments and also for revision at time of assessment.

    All of Innopharma Education Certificates are delivered part-time and online to provide minimum disruption to our learners day to day life. 

    What Can You Do With a Higher Certificate? 

    A Higher Certificate is a type of qualification that emphasises the practical application of skills in a specific field. It is designed to give students the skills they need to succeed in their chosen industry, such as pharmaceuticals, medical technology, or food science. 

    At Innopharma Education, our Higher Certificate programs focus on these industries and are designed to help graduates enter the workforce or advance in their current roles. This qualification is focused on industry needs and is an excellent option for those looking to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in their chosen field.

    After successfully completing a higher certificate, graduates can continue studying and complete the next level Diploma in a similar discipline or enter the workforce with a new job or progress in their existing role. 

    An example of roles that would be open to an Innopharma graduate with a Higher Certificate could be as follows:

    • Process operator in food/pharma/med tech manufacturing
    • Maintenance operator
    • Quality assurance analyst
    • Junior data analyst
    • Project specialist
    • Quality control analyst
    • Food entrepreneur
    • Supply chain support

    Can You Apply for a Degree With a Higher Certificate?

    To enter a Level 7 or degree program, most institutions in Ireland require a Level 6 qualification or its equivalent. However, there is an exception process called the Accredited Prior and Experiential Learning (APEL) process that allows individuals to apply to these programs even if they do not have the required qualification. 

    The APEL process takes into account an individual's work experience in the field of the academic program and evaluates their achievements over time to determine if they have the equivalent skills and knowledge to meet the entry requirements for the program. This process allows individuals to apply to these programs even if they do not have the required qualifications, but it is up to each institution to decide if they will accept applicants through the APEL process.

    Why Study Higher Certificate Courses with Innopharma Education?

    Innopharma Education works with industries that are crucial to Ireland's economy. 

    • The bio-pharmaceutical sector, in particular, has seen significant foreign investment, with 19 of the top 20 global pharma and biopharmaceutical companies having a presence in Ireland. In 2021 alone, 104 new companies in this sector established themselves in Ireland, and over 80,000 people are employed in the sector directly or indirectly. 
    • The medical technology sector, which comprises 350 companies in Ireland and employs 38,000 people, is another key industry for the country. Approximately 60% of these companies are Irish-owned. 
    • The food sector is the largest contributor to GDP in Ireland, employing 170,400 (7.1%) people in 2022 and exporting to 180 markets worldwide. With a range of roles and a focus on sustainability, the food sector presents numerous opportunities for graduates of food-related programs across the country.`

    As a leading education provider, Innopharma Education is committed to offering programs that not only prepare our learners for employment, but also position them for successful careers in Ireland's key industries. Our Higher Certificate program provides a strong foundation for building a long-term career in these major sectors, both in Ireland and internationally. 

    Obtaining a Higher Certificate requires careful consideration and a clear understanding of one's career goals. It is important to align this field of study with your goals and ensure you have the time and capacity to fully commit to the program. 

    Innopharma graduates standing with staff


    A Higher Certificate program at Innopharma Education provides the foundation skills, knowledge, and language necessary for success in the food science, pharmaceutical science, and medical device manufacturing and technology industries. 

    Our programs are designed to be relevant to these sectors and provide learners with opportunities to excel in their roles, while also adding value to their employers. Our lecturers, who are a blend of industry professionals and academic experts, ensure that the content of our modules and programs is current and relevant. Our dedicated team works with learners on an individual or group basis to ensure they have all the tools they need to succeed.

    Ready to explore your options? Here are some of the certificates we offer:

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