Feuding won't solve FE dilemma 1

September 19, 2003

While I am sympathetic to further education principals' frustration that universities might hijack foundation degrees rather than work in partnership ("FE chiefs air alarm over new degrees", THES , September 12), inconsistent government policy has greatly contributed to the problem.

The widening participation strategy has been seriously undermined by the non-allocation of any significant numbers for student expansion in universities. This occurred after the Higher Education Funding Council for England realised there was already too much natural growth in the system. This has left universities in a position whereby, in supporting partner colleges in developing foundation degrees by validation and numbers from their own contracts, they are robbing their own institution.

I am tired also of hearing that "much of the work-oriented basis for the qualification will be lost" if courses are managed by a university.

The universities with which I am familiar are ex-polytechnics founded to deliver vocational provision and have much experience with sub-degree qualifications. The foundation degrees they are developing arise from their long associations with, for example, schools and nurseries and the health service in preparing and updating their practitioners.

Government ministers who were qualified mainly in the old university sector too often refer to that sector and further education as the two alternatives. They seem oblivious to the distinct nature of new universities.

Much remains to be done at levels 2 and 3 to bridge further and higher education if widening participation is to be achieved and if qualifications such as foundation degrees are to play a full part.

Surely this is a more fruitful focus for further education and higher education partners than feuding.

Freda Tallantyre
Deputy vice-chancellor (academic)
University of Derby

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