Shaky introduction 1

December 15, 2006

While the proposal to give further education colleges the right to award foundation degrees - rather than relyJon the approval of a university - is a move in the right direction, it is flawed in two crucial respects ("College powers may spawn universities", November 24; Opinion, December 8).

By proposing to give the Privy Council the power to decide which colleges be given this authority, the Government muddies the waters as to the status of foundation degrees. The Privy Council is the accepted authority for certifying the legitimacy of degrees, but while it might beJappropriate to call foundation courses "degrees" for marketing purposes, they are not so in the level of their qualification.

The other flaw is that by severing the link with universities, the ability of foundation degree graduates to progress toJthe third year of an honours degree - a central characteristic of the qualification - is weakened. Will universities be willing to accept graduates from foundation degrees in whose design they have had no input and whose quality they have not overseen? The understandable response from Universities UK suggests not.

This will be a great pity, butJthe basic idea of giving further education colleges some measure of authority over foundation degrees can still be rescued. The powers should be awarded for part-time foundation degrees only, which are usually closely linked to particular employment sectors where further education college expertise is strongest and students are often not seeking to progress to honours.

The power to give further education colleges authority to award these qualifications should rest with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which has years of experience in awarding intermediate higher education qualifications, rather than the Privy Council, which has none.

These were the proposals put to ministers in the report of the Foundation Degree Task Force two years ago. It is regrettable that they have not been followed.

Leslie Wagner
Chair, Foundation Degree Task Force

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