Leader: Age shouldn't matter

April 9, 2004

The latest enrolments on foundation degrees may be bad news for target-obsessed civil servants and their political masters. But the fact that almost half of those taking the courses are over 30 should be cause for celebration, not hand-wringing. Whatever happened to lifelong learning - a concept embraced officially in ministerial titles but ignored in the measurement of participation in higher education only by those in their teens and twenties?

The students' age profile and the fact that almost three-quarters are female probably say as much about the type of foundation degrees that have been successful as about school-leavers' attitudes. Courses for classroom assistants and some in health subjects have recruited strongly, and are attractive to mothers returning to work, or those seeking promotion in predominantly female occupations. Such programmes are socially and economically valuable, but they raise the question of why those in other areas have not taken off to the same extent.

It is early days for foundation degrees, but they will need to draw from all age groups in greater numbers if they are to fulfil the initial expectations. The involvement of more old universities in this week's allocation of places may help boost recruitment, but the courses do not yet look like the engine of expansion envisaged in the higher education white paper.

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