FE calls for more subdegrees

November 29, 1996

Further education chiefs have echoed calls from ministers for more two-year subdegree programmes and a radical redefinition of the present higher education system.

In its submission to Sir Ron Dearing's inquiry into higher education, the FEFC has urged less demarcation between the further and higher education sectors.

Stressing that higher education is likely to become more local, vocational and flexible in future, it says further education colleges are ideally placed to fulfil more of its needs in the future.

The council calls for "an expansion of two-year higher education provision which could take place either by expanding total higher education student numbers or transferring existing student numbers from three-year to two-year programmes".

Its ideas are similar to those submitted to the inquiry by the Department for Education and Employment, which suggested that increasing subdegree courses would make higher education more responsive to employment needs.

They also bear a resemblance to the findings of a team looking into the education system on the United States East Coast for the Dearing inquiry.

The team, made up of Pam Morris, principal of the Blue School, Wells; Terry Melia, chief inspector of the Further Education Funding Council; John Stoddart, chairman of the Higher Education Quality Council and principal of Sheffield Hallam University; and Brian Tuck, professor of electrical engineering at Nottingham University, found it was far cheaper to split a degree between four and two-year institutions.

It identified a large number of higher education institutions providing good undergraduate teaching without offering research or doctoral programmes, suggesting this could provide a model for the British system.

The FEFC argues that sub-degree qualifications should be recognised as a distinct part of higher education but that students should also be able to progress easily between different institutions. The description of students as further education or higher education students is limiting," says its submission.

Instead, the council suggests redefining all post-statutory studies up to and including advanced level 3 as tertiary education while studies beyond this but below degree level, such as HNCs or HNDs, should be known as advanced further education.

This redefinition would also entail reviewing student support since at present only full-time higher education students receive mandatory awards.

In 1994/95, 190,000 of the 1.47 million higher education students in England studied in further education colleges.

* A survey of higher education provided in further education colleges and funded by the FEFC found high standards of teaching and learning in most subjects.

Colleges offering substantial amounts of higher education were often better equipped and achieved higher inspection grades for quality assurance.

But too much variation between courses and validating bodies could cause problems, with colleges having to satisfy the procedures of several external bodies at once.

Restriction on growth of full-time higher education places meant it was sometimes difficult for colleges to offer their students progression to degree courses.

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