Can you get into university with an ICCE Advanced Certificate?

Are you a student studying the International Certificate of Christian Education? Are you hoping to go to university? If so, I have some bad news for you. It will probably be harder to get into higher education than Christian Education Europe and your school told you. The ICCE claims an extensive list of universities that have accepted the Advanced Certificate for university entrance. After looking through universities’ responses to Freedom of Information requests, however, it appears that a number of them have not accepted the qualification at all.

Update 20 November 2014: UWE’s (University of the West of England, Bristol) response has been added.


The ICCE website lists universities which, it claims, have accepted graduates of the ICCE and/or NCSC (National Christian Schools Certificate, the old name for ICCE). But when Anjana Ahuja spoke to some of these universities as part of the BBC Newsnight investigation, none of them said they actually accepted the ICCE as an entrance certificate. In most cases, the universities had accepted ICCE graduates, but only after they had studied additional qualifications elsewhere. It was those qualifications—A Levels, International Baccalaureates—that gained these students their university places. None of them recognised the ICCE as a standard entrance qualification.

Anjana only spoke to six universities, but this was enough to make me curious. In how many other instances was the ICCE’s advertising misleading? In July, I asked Richy Thompson to put in Freedom of Information requests to every university on the ICCE’s list. He contacted 56 universities, of which 50 responded. It turned out the ICCE website was quite misleading.

Of the universities that responded, only four said they accepted the ICCE. Six more said they had accepted students, but this had been a special case. Eighteen of the universities said they had searched their records and found no evidence of ever accepting an ICCE or NCSC graduate. Nine more said they had accepted ICCE graduates, but these graduates had been accepted on the basis of other qualifications they held, not the ICCE. Four of them categorically denied that they accepted the ICCE for university entrance. The rest of the universities had no records, or were unable to supply information.

That means that, from 56 universities that were claimed to accept the ICCE, at least 31 seemed to be misleading. On the basis of this evidence, I complained to the Advertising Standards Agency about the ICCE’s page. The ASA agreed with me, and took it up with the ICCE. This was resolved informally (you can find it in the ASA’s Informally Resolved Cases, 19 November 2014), without the case going to the ASA Council for an official judgement. On 7 November, the ASA wrote to me and said:

[W]e have received a further response from the International Certificate of Christian Education. They have provided assurance that they will amend the ad to make clear that the ICCE and NCSC qualifications are not regarded as entrance qualifications by the institutions listed in the ad; that the completion of ICCE and NCSC qualifications does not guarantee a place at the institutions listed; and that each application will be assessed on their merits, taking into consideration all qualifications. They have also provided assurance that they will review the list of institutions and ensure they hold robust documentary evidence to substantiate the inclusion of an institution in the ad.

This week, the ICCE list was updated (here’s a Freeze of it as it stands today). Of the 62 universities on the list in October, 21 have been removed (including—confusingly—Essex, whose FOI response indicated that they did accept the ICCE). I take this as tacit acknowledgement that the old ICCE site made misleading claims. You can judge for yourself whether you think their updated page complies with what they told the ASA they would do. Personally, I’m not sure they make things as clear as they could.

Still, their new list includes 46 universities (five of them new since October), and based on the information that the universities themselves provided, I think many of them are still misleading. I have responses from most of these universities, and in a number of cases what the universities say contradicts what the ICCE says about them. I have no way at this time of proving who, but someone is providing incorrect information. Either multiple universities’ FOI departments are mistaken, or the ICCE’s advertising is still misleading.

I’ve decided to reproduce the universities responses here, so you can judge for yourselves. If you want, you can skip ahead to that section, but here’s a summary for people who don’t want to read it all.

Universities which deny accepting the ICCE

There are eight of these, who explicitly state that, while they have enrolled students who possess ICCE certificates, these students also held recognised qualifications, and it was on the basis of these that the students were admitted. Typical of this category are Birmingham and Surrey:

The University has accepted two students with the NCSC. However, they were both admitted on the strength of their A levels as the University does not recognise the NSCS/ICCE as an entrance qualification.

(University of Birmingham)

The University has accepted one student with the ICCE qualification but they were accepted because they had additional qualifications.

The University does not have the ICCE on its qualifications database as it would only be accepted in conjunction with other level 3 qualifications, A levels or BTEC for example.

(University of Surrey)

 But the ICCE website says “the list shows universities that have accepted ICCE and NCSC graduates, at the time of their application, without any additional academic qualification”. Someone is not telling the whole truth.

Universities that HAVE accepted students on the basis of the ICCE

There are ten of these. The statements from Exeter and Queen Mary, Belfast, neither confirm nor deny accepting ICCE students, but from what they do say, it seems likely that they have, so I included them in this list.

Of these universities, three (Bath, Nottingham, and Cardiff) state that they treat the ICCE as an entrance qualification. However, since my Guardian article mentioning that fact, I understand that some of them are reviewing this policy (I’ll keep you updated). The rest have indeed accepted ICCE graduates, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they would do so again; several of them note that an exception or ‘special case’ was made for the students in question.

The headline news for ICCE fans is that the University of Cambridge has accepted one ICCE graduate, to study theology. This is not actually so surprising: Cambridge famously places emphasis on interviews as a means of assessing student readiness. A student with no recognised qualification would actually be at less of a disadvantage here than at a university with a rigid A Level requirement. Of course, I’d argue that in general an ICCE education is not ideal preparation for the Cambridge interview, but it’s not surprising that an exceptional ICCE refugee might make the cut. I just can’t wait to hear their views on theology after they graduate.

The strange one is the University of Durham. I know that they have accepted NCSC (old name for the ICCE) graduates in the past, because I went to school with some of them. As far as I’m aware, they were accepted without additional qualifications. However, Durham’s response included the line “The ICCE Advanced Certificate would be insufficient on its own as meeting our entry requirements.” So even if Durham has accepted ICCE students in the past, it says it would not do so again without (unspecified) additional requirements.

Doubtful ones

There were eleven cases where the universities were unable to supply sufficient information to categorically confirm or deny that they had ever accepted an ICCE graduate. However, based on the information they did supply, it seems unlikely that any ICCE students have been accepted. The Heads of Admissions at Kent and Queen Mary University of London, for instance, said they had never heard of the ICCE or NCSC. Most of these are from universities who said “We have no record of a student being admitted with an ICCE certificate”. In most cases, though, these universities did not have comprehensive records available.

Typical of this category:

 The University conducted a search of qualifications on entry and could not find any reference to either the NCSC or the ICCE which suggests the University did not enrol a student who had declared this as a qualification.

 (Canterbury Christ Church University)

Ones which gave no clear answer

Some of the universities on the current list are newly added, so I’m still awaiting their responses. Several universities claimed the cost of finding out if they had ever accepted the ICCE would be too great, and refused to answer the FOI request on those grounds. Four others gave no response at all. That means there are a total of 17 universities on the current list where we have no evidence either way to verify or disprove the ICCE’s claims.


To recap, then:

Ten of the universities on the list say they have accepted students on the basis of the ICCE. This does not mean, however, that they accept the ICCE routinely, or even that they would do so again. Durham explicitly stated that it would not.

Eight of the universities gave responses which directly contradict the ICCE’s claim that their graduates have been accepted there without additional qualifications.

Eleven of the universities gave responses which cast doubt on the ICCE’s claim, but could not absolutely deny it.

We have no evidence about the remaining universities.

What follows is the responses from all the universities, in the categories I’ve given them. These are not the responses in full, but edited to reflect the relevant comments. If there’s interest in the unexpurgated versions, I’ll post them somewhere.

Universities which say they have not accepted students on the basis of the ICCE

  • Birmingham

The University has accepted two students with the NCSC. However, they were both admitted on the strength of their A levels as the University does not recognise the NSCS/ICCE as an entrance qualification.

  •  Brunel

While we may have accepted students who hold the ICCE alongside other qualifications, the ICCE by itself is not recognised as an alternative to A levels or the International Bacclaureate (IB). 

  • Edinburgh

While ICCE graduates with the NCSC qualification have been accepted on to the University’s programmes, none of them gained entrance on the basis of having the NCSC qualification (ie the NCSC was not their highest qualification on entry to the University).

You also asked if the University recognises the National Christian Schools Certificate (NCSC), now called the International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE) Advanced Certificate, as an entrance qualification. The University does not accept this qualification for entry to any of our degree programmes. 

  • Greenwich

This qualification may have been treated as a GCSE equivalent many years ago. Information on how many instances is not held.

“May have been treated as a GCSE equivalent”. The ICCE board claims its Advanced Certificate is an A Level equivalent.

This is not a qualification that the University would specify as an entry requirement to a programme of study. We have no policy on it and in the event that it appears again it would be at the academic discretion of the Programme Leader to judge its worth.

  • Keele

We have accepted some students that hold the ICCE in addition to other qualifications however, no students have been accepted solely on ICCE qualifications.

  • Kingston

The ICCE qualification is non- tariffable [does not carry UCAS points]; therefore although we may accept it for entry, it will be in combination with other tariffable qualifications.

[NB Tariffable means that they attract UCAS points]

  • University of East London (UEL)

We have not admitted or enrolled any student with the above qualifications onto any of our programmes during the period requested [1992-present]. Our enrolment records illustrate that students who held the above awards further held other qualifications which were used to assess eligibility for entry into our university and our programmes of study.

  • Surrey

The University has accepted one student with the ICCE qualification but they were accepted because they had additional qualifications.

The University does not have the ICCE on its qualifications database as it would only be accepted in conjunction with other level 3 qualifications, A levels or BTEC for example. 

Universities which have accepted the ICCE

  • Bath

The University does currently accept the ICCE Advanced Certificate as an entry qualification, on the basis that NARIC reviewed it in 2012 and established that it was broadly equivalent to a Cambridge International A-level.

  • Queen’s University Belfast

Applicants (typically a maximum of one or two each year) offering the ICCE Advanced Certificate qualification are considered individually on their merits, taking into account the course applied for and their overall academic background.

  • Cambridge

Cambridge confirmed that it has accepted one ICCE graduate to study theology within the last three years, and added:

The Colleges have no formal policy regarding the acceptability of ICCE/NCSC qualifications for admission to an undergraduate course. All applications are considered on an individual basis with the student’s academic record, personal statement, school/college reference, any written work submitted or undertaken at interview, performance in any required tests, contextual data and performance at interview all forming part of our holistic assessment of each application.

  • Durham

In line with the University’s Records Retention Schedule, we have not retained this information for applications made before 2008. In terms of the period 2008-2010, <5 students were accepted with NCSC qualifications.

The ICCE Advanced Certificate would be insufficient on its own as meeting our entry requirements.

  • Cardiff

Cardiff University welcomes applications from those offering alternative qualifications and would recognise this qualification as acceptable for entry, with the grades being treated in the same way as A Level grades.

  • Exeter

We have made offers to fewer than five applicants offering the ICCE/NCSC qualification, since our electronic records began. In most cases, the qualification was bolstered either by another suitable academic qualification or an interview process.

We can confirm that we are prepared to consider applicants bearing these qualifications. We deem the ICCE Advanced Certificate qualification as broadly equivalent to A Levels, however applicants applying with this qualification would be referred to our Academic Colleges who may wish to interview or carry out a similar direct assessment before making a decision.

  • Hertfordshire

The University of Hertfordshire said it has accepted seven ICCE students. However, it added:

ICCE is not one of our listed equivalences and therefore any applicant applying with this qualification would never receive an automatic offer from us.

  • Huddersfield

The University of Huddersfield does not accept the ICCE as a standard qualification and should an admissions tutor feel that a student who puts this award forward on application is worthy of an offer, the admissions tutor has to make a ‘special case’ to our Admissions and Records Office for their approval to proceed.  The University has had very few applicants putting forward this award, but we do have two students currently studying with us where a special case was made by the admissions tutor and subsequently accepted by the University.

  • Leicester

We have no records of any students accepted by the University with [the NCSC] qualification between 1992 and 2010. We have identified one student accepted with [the ICCE] qualification since 2004.

We consider each application individually and do not have a stated policy on accepting students with an ICCE Advanced Certificate.

  • Nottingham

I can confirm that the ICCE GCSE and A-level equivalents are considered by our Admissions department as entry qualifications to The University of Nottingham, however, I am not able to provide you with further information about the numbers of students with NCSC qualifications who have registered at our institution between 1992 and 2010.

Doubtful ones

  • Aberdeen

The student records system has been searched for qualifications recorded against students between 1992 and 2010 inclusive, for the referenced Christian Certificates.  We have no (nil) matching records.

Please note that this does not confirm if any student has achieved this type of certificate, it only confirms we have not recorded the data.

  • Bangor, Wales

The University does not hold information which is easily accessible relating to whether any of our applicants have held this qualification as it is currently not recognised by Bangor University as meeting course academic entry criteria – therefore data on this award is neither collected nor retained in a structured manner.

  • Canterbury Christ Church

The University conducted a search of qualifications on entry and could not find any reference to either the NCSC or the ICCE which suggests the University did not enrol a student who had declared this as a qualification.

  • East Anglia

UEA does not have any record of any students admitted with ICCE qualifications.

  • Kent

We do not hold this information and our Head of Admissions is not familiar with this qualification.  The website that lists our University may be confusing us with what was then the Kent Institute of Art and Design (KIAD).  This may be because Architecture moved from KIAD to the University of Kent in 2004.

We do not hold a policy regarding the ICCE Advanced Certificate and we do not hold a record of accepting this certificate as an entrance qualification.

  • Leeds

I am afraid that the furthest we can go back in our records is to 2007. We do not hold electronic records of the qualifications listed on students’ application forms prior to that.

Between 2007 and 2010, 9 people listed ICCE or NCSC qualifications on their applications to degree courses at Leeds. These were listed in conjunction with other qualifications – typically A levels or equivalent. Of those 9 applicants, 6 received offers, all of whom offered additional qualifications, approved by UCAS, as well as ICCE/NCSC. Of those 6, 2 students were subsequently accepted, onto a Dance and a Japanese programme respectively.

We do not have a policy statement on the ICCE/NCSC, although it is not included in the list of standard qualifications that we accept, which is consistent with the UCAS approach.

  • Queen Mary University of London

We can only reliably check our records for 2009 and 2010. We are unable to find any students who were accepted with the NCSC/ICCE.

No information is held. The Head of Admissions, who has been in that post over 10 years, states that he has not come across this qualification.

  • Manchester

We are not aware of accepting anyone with an ICCE qualification on the two courses mentioned on the website you sent [NB at the time the request was made, the ICCE listed the courses as well as universities to which students had allegedly been accepted]. We don’t actually run a Criminology and Forensic Science degree (although Manchester Metropolitan University does) and admissions staff for Criminology and Japanese had not come across the ICCE qualification.

NARIC did a comparability study of ICCE and A-level qualification in 2012 (see here), so it is feasible that an ICCE Advanced Certificate could be accepted in place of a third A Level without any enquiries going to our central admissions team, but it’s very unlikely.

“In place of a third A Level” is also a major step down from the ICCE claim that the Advanced Certificate is worth the same as three or four A Levels.

  • Oxford Brookes

We have no record of any student being admitted to an Oxford Brookes University course with either of these qualifications.

Oxford Brookes does not have a specific policy in relation to the ICCE qualifications, as such any decision to accept them would be based around a case by case assessment.

  • Sheffield

We can find no record of any such admissions.

Our policy on the ICCE Advanced Certificate is that we consider this qualification on a case-by-case basis, and frame offers individually where we consider that the certificates being studied provide sufficient academic preparation for the degree course applied for. The qualification is studied by very few applicants, and we can find no evidence of any applicants presenting the ICCE Advanced Certificate having been admitted to the University. Please note, however, that entry qualifications data held in historic records (older than five years) is not always robust.

  • Warwick

The University only hold records dating back to 2006. We have no record of accepting any students on the basis of this qualification.

Insufficient evidence either way

  • Hull

We do not have any data available to determine whether students have been accepted to the University of Hull between 1992-2010 as the level of data recording of entry qualifications does not routinely include a record of NCSC qualifications.

With regard to the ICCE Advanced, this qualification is not one that we would automatically accept but the University would consider any applications from students with these qualifications on a case-by-case basis depending on the achievements and looking at the application holistically.

  • Liverpool

Unfortunately, it has not been possible to identify whether or not we have admitted students with this qualification in the past.  When the University receives qualifications that do not come to us via UCAS, they tend to be categorised under a general ‘UK Certificate’ code, rather than having separate codes for each individual qualification.  As a result, it is not possible to identify individual candidates who may have entered with this qualification.

  • Loughborough

It is possible that we have accepted students with ICCE qualifications since 2004.  However the only way to determine this would be to examine individual application forms on a case by case basis.  We estimate that this would cost significantly more than the appropriate limit to consider this part your request. Consequently, the University is not able to respond to this part of your request.

We do not have an institutional policy for acceptance of International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE) qualifications, and therefore, the decision on whether to offer a place to an applicant offering this qualification would depend on a case-by-case assessment of the ICCE curriculum, teaching and assessment.

  • Plymouth (Plymouth appear to have misread the question, so I may ask again for the period since 2004)

Plymouth University does not have any record of any students admitted with NCSC/ICCE qualifications between 1992 and 2004 as records this far back do not show this level of detail.

The University does not have an institutional policy for acceptance of ICCE qualifications, and the decision on whether to accept them would depend on the course applied for and an assessment of the ICCE curriculum, teaching and assessment methods on a case-by-case basis. All qualifications are considered against our entry criteria and suitability for the programme of study.

  • School of African & Oriental Studies

SOAS does not hold this information. The School’s admission records do not maintain the qualification type so there is no way to identify this information.

The school does not have a policy on the acceptance of this qualification.

  • Sussex

The University of Sussex does receive applicants with the above qualifications. However, they are not recognised as formal entry qualifications and we therefore do not hold numbers of students with these qualifications centrally. Due to this, the cost of resources needed to extract the information would exceed the appropriate limit under section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act. The limit we are required to commit is £450, which is equivalent to 18 hours of staff time charged at £25 per hour. Therefore your request is refused under section 12(1) of the Freedom of Information Act.

Didn’t respond

  • Lancaster
  • Southampton
  • Staffordshire
  • York

Awaiting responses

  • BPP University
  • UWE (Update: UWE has now responded. They’ve accepted eight students who listed ICCE or NCSC qualifications, but they also said “Please note that we are not able to identify whether the offer was made on the basis of the ICCE/NCSC qualification or on other qualifications held by the applicant”. So I guess UWE belongs in the “insufficient evidence either way” category, although I suspect they probably have accepted the ICCE, given that they’ve made offers for nine different courses).
  • City University London
  • University of Westminster
  • King’s College London
  • Swansea
  • Roehampton

This is the fourth time that advertising relating to the ICCE has been found to be misleading or false.

The first time.

The second time.

The third time.


Patheos Atheist LogoLike Leaving Fundamentalism and Patheos Atheist on Facebook!

About Jonny Scaramanga