Colleges told to aim higher

September 26, 2003

Virtually all further education colleges should be involved in delivering foundation degrees, higher education minister Alan Johnson said this week.

Even those with insufficient facilities or expertise to support higher education on their own should be looking to collaborate with other institutions to develop and deliver the qualification.

They should not leave it to the "mixed-economy" colleges that already offer a significant proportion of higher education to help increase foundation degree student numbers, he said.

Mr Johnson told The THES : "Colleges must bear in mind that foundation degrees are going to become still more important. If someone wants to do a foundation degree, they should have the opportunity to do it wherever they are in the country."

His comments followed his first speech to further education heads at a London conference this week. He said the government's Success for All strategy for further education relied on colleges reviewing the courses they offered. "We want you to look afresh at your mission to consider how you can reshape your organisation to contribute most effectively to the needs of learners and employers and to drive up quality," he said.

After his speech, he told The THES that colleges should begin to build their foundation degree profile through their engagement with employers.

"Employers need to be aware of developments in that area and of their involvement in the higher education sector," he added.

But Chris Hughes, chief executive of the Learning and Skills Development Agency, said higher education was already something of a "distracting opportunity" for some in further education.

He said: "I do think that further education is the right place for foundation degrees to develop. But the fact is there are some colleges that are not equipped to provide higher education and may be attracted to it for all the wrong reasons. They may think it is a prestigious thing to do, but underestimate the effort and cost involved in creating their equivalent of a higher education environment."

Mr Hughes told the conference that colleges should review their missions to define what they were good at and what they did not do. he believed colleges with a handful of higher education students should be asking themselves why they were running such courses.

He said: "We are not talking about turning every college into a narrow monotechnic. But what we might be talking about is colleges taking decisions about not being in a broad market."

* Labour MP Rob Marris has criticised the government for failing to keep tabs on how many universities take vocational qualifications into account when deciding whether to admit students.

Higher education minister Alan Johnson conceded the government had "no figures on the number of courses for which vocational qualifications were taken into account". Mr Marris said the information should be collected by the proposed access regulator as an incentive for universities to take vocational qualifications more seriously.

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