First FE colleges with own degrees will ‘complement’ universities

Chief executive of FE provider NCG said motivation for getting degree-awarding powers was ‘taking control’ of its own HE provision

June 29, 2016
FE provider granted degree awarding powers
Source: iStock

The head of the first further education provider in the country to gain degree-awarding powers said that the motivation was about taking “control of its own powers” to provide higher education and to “complement the offers” of universities.

Joe Docherty, chief executive of NCG, added that he was not trying to create new higher education institutions and said that his chairman can “shoot him in the car park” if NCG’s new powers lead to this in the future.

The Privy Council awarded NCG taught degree-awarding powers this week, allowing it to develop and award its own honours and master’s degrees for all its further education colleges. It aims to use its new powers to build on what it sees as its strengths as a vocational higher education provider, developing degrees that are more responsive and meet the skills needs of employers.

One of NCG’s institutions, Newcastle College, was affected when Teesside University decided to withdraw its validation of higher education courses earlier this year.

“This is driven by two things. One is to have control of our own powers, [following] Teesside University unilaterally [telling] its FE partners it was withdrawing from HE in FE,” he told Times Higher Education. “This [also] happened six years ago, I think, with Leeds Beckett [University], and it’s massively disruptive.

“It also means that when you want to create a curriculum that’s pointing to a local economy and local employer needs, that may or may not suit the agenda of your accrediting institution; so it’s really ensuring that provision is stable and consistently pointed towards the economies and local economic markets we operate in.

“This is about…complementing the offers [currently] existing in universities. We have sufficient classic universities in the UK, and that’s a view I hold strongly. I’ve said to my chairman, if he finds a professor of poetry in the building in five years, he can shoot me in the car park.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that this was a “big step forward” in demonstrating the “quality…HE provision” delivered within the further education sector.

“Hopefully the government’s Higher Education and Research Bill will reduce any unnecessary bureaucracy to benefit colleges currently in the application process,” he added.

“We predict that more colleges will follow the example set by NCG in the next few years and will provide a distinctive HE service that meets the needs of local employers and communities.”

Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, said that the decision “opens up more opportunities for young people in the local community to enjoy the benefits that higher education can bring”.

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