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What is articulation?

Articulation is currently defined by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) as “a student gaining entry into the second year of a degree with a Higher National Certificate (HNC) gained at college, or into the third year with a Higher National Diploma (HND) gained at college”. Articulation between qualifications (such as HNCs and HNDs) and degree qualifications is normally facilitated by prior arrangement between colleges and higher education (HE) providers and is based on the notion of credit accumulation and transfer or ‘CAT’.

In Scotland, articulation strategy is driven by the SFC. The SFC has a commitment to the policy as part of a 10 year strategy “to support colleges and universities in the development and maintenance of articulation pathways and routes that ensures no loss of time for the student and value for public money”. In addition in 2018, Universities Scotland and Colleges Scotland, as a result of the Blueprint for Fair Access, the final report of the Commission on Widening Access, established the National Articulation Forum. This report was published in August 2020 with a number of recommendations which may determine the future definition, language and models of articulation going forward.

You can read the National Articulation Forum Final Report 2020 here

How is it used and which groups benefit?

Articulation can offer a straightforward progression route from enrolment on a Higher National course to degree completion within a fixed time period.

Articulation enables HE providers to access a pipeline of technically-proficient candidates drawn from the local community. Around 20% of students who articulate with the maximum credit are from the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland measured by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.  As such, articulation facilitates access and enables progression to HE for under-represented groups and can contribute towards the achievement of providers’ widening participation objectives. The majority of articulation currently occurs between colleges and post-1992 universities (Gallacher, 2014).

Things to consider

Learning, teaching and assessment regimes often vary significantly between college and HE providers, so it is vital that colleges and universities work together to support and prepare articulating students (as well as those returning to education) to make the transition. The ‘Next Steps at University’  module at the University of the West of Scotland is an example of a programme that has been designed for this purpose.  It concentrates on enhancing the knowledge students gained in a college setting and developing essential study skills for HE such as presentation skills, IT Skills and academic writing skills, including referencing conventions.

‘Let’s Start’ at Edinburgh Napier University is a pre-entry induction to university for direct-entry offer holders and new entrants (predominately Scottish-domiciled articulation students) in the Schools of Computing, Engineering & the Built Environment and Applied Sciences. ‘Let’s Start’ involves university lectures and tutorials, an academic skills workshop and guidance from a range of professional services staff. Attendees also have access to a ‘preparing for university study’ toolkit, links to University online resources, and the option to complete a degree programme-specific, university standard assessment over the summer which is marked by academic staff.

International evidence

There are similarities between articulation in Scotland and the ‘2 plus 2’ programmes offered by community colleges in the United States of America. Evidence from the USA suggests that complete transparency between institutions and a joined-up approach are key ingredients for effective accumulation and transfer of credits. For example, the Arizona General Education Curriculum consists of a 35-semester-credit curriculum block that can be transferred from any Arizona public community college (two year institution) to any other Arizona public community college or university (four year institution). The Course Equivalency Guide and unified Course Applicability System in operation facilitates upward progression and sideways moves to institutions with appropriate provision (de los Santos Jr and Sutton, 2012). Research into the impact of extended induction schemes on articulation and access students includes McIntyre et al’s (2012) study of the outcomes of students who participated in a five-day enabling course in the week before their formal university orientation programme in an Australian University. The study examined the impact on the academic outcomes of three cohorts of students (965 in total). They found that the course had a very strong effect on improving pass rates. It also helped to reduce the failure rate from 39% to 12% in the first semester, albeit access students were less likely to be successful among the lowest attaining students.

There is also evidence from the USA on the importance of counselling students to make optimal transfer choices and the role of ‘transfer guides’ created by staff within specific disciplines. These guides articulate the pathways students should follow in order to achieve their degree programme goals and provide career counsellors with strategies that can be used in their work supporting students with their decision-making (Spencer 2017).

Further information and references

National Articulation Forum Final Report 2020

Scottish Funding Council (2016), Articulation National 10 year strategy

Scottish Funding Council (2018), University Outcome Agreements – summary of progress and ambitions report 2018 

University of the West of Scotland: Next Steps at University module descriptor.

Edinburgh Napier University: Let’s Start:

de los Santos Jr, A. G. and Sutton, F. (2012). Swirling students: Articulation between a major community college district and a state-supported research university. Journal of Research and Practice, Vol. 36(12): pp.967-981.

Gallacher, J. (2014). Higher education in Scotland: differentiation and diversion? The impact of college-university progression links. International Journal of Lifelong Education, Vol. 33(1): pp.96-106.

Jenkins, D., Lahr, H. and Fink, J. (2017). Building blocks: Laying the groundwork for guided pathways reform in Ohio. New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center.

Knox, H. (2006). Making the transition from further to higher education: The Impact of a preparatory module on retention, progression and performance. Journal of Further and Higher Education, Vol. 29(2): pp.103-110.

Lang, D. W. (2009). Articulation, transfer, and atudent choice in a binary post-secondary system, Higher Education, Vol. 57(3): pp.355-371.

Spencer, G. (2018). Can transfer guides improve the uptake of major prerequisites? Evidence from Ohio’s transfer and articulation policy reform. Research in Higher Education

Van Noy, M., Trimble, M., Jenkins, D., Barnett, E. and Wachen, J. (2016). Guided pathways to careers: Four dimensions of structure in community college career-technical programs. Community College Review, Vol. 44(4): pp.263–285.