Cinderella steps out

April 16, 1999

The government wants more higher education students in further education colleges. Alan Thomson reports.

FURTHER education colleges, for so long called the Cinderella sector, will be leading the first expansion of higher education in five years. And with the renewed growth comes additional money.

ENGLAND

Of the extra 45,000 higher education places in England in 1999-2000, 32,000 will be sub-degree level, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council. More than half of these (18,000-20,000) will be in colleges. The remaining places were allocated to universities and other higher education institutions.

Hefce has started to converge the rate of funding for higher education courses, which means colleges, which have been relatively underfunded for higher education work, will be better off.

Colleges have welcomed the extra money. David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "For further education to be given higher education at higher education rates is a big success for the sector."

The scale of the expansion is just beginning to sink in. In 2000-01, colleges will be expected to recruit around 35,000 more sub-degree HE students. In total, colleges have been told they should recruit an extra 70,000 or so further and higher education students this year; an extra 180,000 students in 1999-2000; a further 109,000 in 2000-01; and an extra 340,000 in 2001-02. By the end of 2002, colleges should be teaching 700,000 more students than they were in 1997-98.

The problem might not be a lack of resources, but finding the people to fill the extra places. And there may be particular problems recruiting HND and HNC students. The latest figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show applications to HND courses starting this autumn are down 10 per cent on last year.

The AoC's policy director, John Brennan, believes HND applications might be a reflection of the drop in the numbers of mature students entering higher education since the introduction of tuition fees and the abolition of maintenance grants. The quality of higher education teaching in colleges might also be a cause. The Quality Assurance Agency found that of 16 institutions with serious weaknesses in the 1996-98 assessment round, 11 were colleges.

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