Our BTEC Higher Nationals give you the flexibility to tailor-make a programme of study that suits your students, teachers and centre. 

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They're developed in collaboration with centres, employers, professional bodies and Sector Skills Councils to ensure that the mandatory units for each qualification meet the skills requirements of each sector. 

Core units (mandatory) Specialist units (optional)

Compulsory for all learners as listed in the specification and units.


Core units contain the essential underpinning knowledge required by the sector for this level, regardless of specialisation.

Combining credit values and levels as defined by the specification and rules of combination, learners can complete their course by selecting from:

  • specialist units for the qualification
  • Meeting Local Needs (MLN) units
  • locally devised specialist units.

Unit selection 

Each BTEC Higher National qualification has a specified credit value for the mandatory units, which provide the core knowledge, skills and understanding required. The minimum number of credits required from mandatory core units varies for each qualification.

Mandatory units provide:

  • a broad-based introduction and the essential components for the qualification
  • the underpinning knowledge for the subject area
  • a platform for further specialised study.

Specialist units help you to tailor a learner’s individual programme of study to match their professional needs and aspirations.

Specialist units allow learners to:

  • build on the fundamentals introduced in the mandatory units
  • focus on an area of specialisation for a sector-specific field of employment
  • acquire deeper, wider learning.

To achieve a full qualification at each level, learners must gain a minimum number of credits (120 credits for Higher National Certificates and 240 for Higher National Diplomas), studying a combination of mandatory core units and their own selection from a range of optional specialist units.

These units can be at the same level as the overall qualification, or one level above or below. The rules of combination, outlined in the specification, define how the units can be combined.

This flexibility ensures each programme of study provides the essential underpinning knowledge required for each level and sector, and delivers learning tailored to the individual’s professional needs and aspirations. 

Building a programme of study - at a glance

Working within this framework, centres have three options for the specialist section in any programme of study:

You can select specialist units from the same qualification and level of study, combining level and credit values as defined by the rules of combination in the specification. These units should be the main source for building a programme of study. 

Centres traditionally use Meeting Local Needs (MLN) units to tailor a programme to the individual requirements of local students or employers, whilst ensuring it remains coherent and continues to reflect the standard and vocational purpose of the qualification.

All units imported to meet local needs must be at level 4 or 5, and must not exceed the maximum credit value for imported units defined for the qualification:

  • BTEC Level 4 Higher National Certificates: centres can import a maximum of 30 credits.
  • BTEC Level 5 Higher National Diplomas: centres can import a maximum of 60 credits.

Please note that units from the 2010 Higher National suite cannot be imported into Higher Nationals accredited from 2016.  

MLN units imported into the RQF Higher National Certificate must be at Level 4 and into the RQF Higher National Diploma at Level 5.

If you are interested in applying to add a Meeting Local Needs unit to an existing BTEC Higher National qualification, complete this online form. Once submitted, the form will automatically be sent to the Higher Nationals (HN) team for processing. Your centre will also receive confirmation of submission via email.  

The Higher Nationals (HN) team will accept requests to import Higher National MLN units between 1 September and 31 January of the academic year before they are delivered and assessed against. Pearson makes no charge for handling MLN requests made during this time period in advance of the MLN unit delivery and assessment.

Requests made from the 1 February of the academic year to import BTEC Higher National MLN unit(s) into each BTEC Higher National title that has already been delivered and assessed against will be subject to an exceptional award fee of £250. Late MLN unit requests must be authorised by Pearson’s BTEC Higher National and Pearson’s regulatory teams.

> Access the online MLN form

If you identify a very specific local need which is not met by the existing range of BTEC Higher National units, you can contact us to discuss the possibility of creating a new unit or units, which can be incorporated into one of our existing BTEC Higher Nationals specifications as individual units or by creating a new specialist pathway. 

Commissioned units can also be combined with existing BTEC Higher Nationals units to create a new specification, to meet specific requirements.

There is a fee for development, approval and accreditation of partial commissioned BTEC Higher Nationals, which will be supplied on enquiry to highernationals@pearson.com.

If you are interested in commissioning a BTEC Higher National qualification, please complete the SRQ1 form below and return it to highernationals@pearson.com.

The individual skills and competencies for each level of BTEC Higher National study have been developed in consultation with Sector Skills Councils (SSCs), Standards Setting Bodies (SSBs) and employers to reflect the development requirements within individual industries and sectors. Each specification outlines the specific skills and experience relating to each subject and level. 

BTEC Higher National units are assessed through internal assessment, so you can deliver the programme in a way that suits your learners and relates to local needs.

For essential guidance on planning and implementing internal assessment, see our guide below.

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Designed for higher level BTEC programme teams, it covers all BTEC qualifications from levels 4 to 7, including Higher Nationals, and explains the assessment requirements for BTECs accredited on the Qualification Credit Framework (QCF). This guide was developed following feedback from centres and standards verifiers, and replaces the HE Specialist Papers, which we previously published on a number of assessment topics. 

English language expectations

Learners are expected to be able to demonstrate English language comprehension at a level equivalent to IELTS (International English Language Testing System) 5.5 to be able to study BTEC Higher Nationals. See the FAQs for more details of the expectations.

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