Plotting happy endings

December 4, 2014

As a lecturer and higher education programme leader in a further education college, I agree with Kevin Orr when he says that HE in FE can “change lives” (“HE in FE: truths and illusions”, News, 20 November). However, it is worrying that Orr’s research leads him to think that “HE in FE is not even going to scratch social mobility”; my experience suggests otherwise.

My programme is a two-year foundation degree recruiting a diverse cohort that includes students from families with no previous higher education engagement. It enjoys retention and achievement rates that compare favourably with equivalent university degrees, and over recent years the high proportion of students that have progressed to university have achieved an increasing number of good degrees, followed by graduate-level employment. The programme team and I designed the FdA in collaboration with the validating university and external advisers from other institutions. Far from being an “alienating attempt to achieve parity” with universities, we believe that the programme’s success demonstrates that we have achieved a good balance between the development of high-level vocational skills and academic study that is just as rigorous as that followed by university undergraduates.

The college has a very high level of student satisfaction for its higher education programmes, particularly for the quality of teaching (possibly because tutors hold teaching qualifications, contact time is relatively generous and group sizes tend to be small). The main area in which we would like to improve is the provision of learning resources, such as specialist facilities. This perhaps reflects further education’s long-held view of itself as the Cinderella sector, in which staff work hard to provide high-quality education with resources that, in some cases, compare poorly with secondary schools, never mind universities. Despite this, a good number of our higher education students do get to go to the (graduation) ball and we should celebrate our successes, modest though they may seem when looking at the wider statistics.

Tom Sykes
The City of Liverpool College and the University of Salford

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