Foundation degrees are proving a hit with students and institutions, according to figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which will bolster the government's drive to expand higher education through vocational two-year courses.
Figures released this week by Ucas show acceptances onto full-time foundation degree courses in England are up 75 per cent, from 2,964 to 5,155. The number of such courses on offer has grown 57 per cent, from 1,209 to 1,898, and 147 institutions are running foundation degrees compared with 106 in September last year.
The figures were announced by higher education minister Alan Johnson at a breakfast meeting in London on Tuesday, designed to give foundation degrees a promotional push.
Mr Johnson used the meeting to launch a foundation degree report, billed as a "call to arms" to employers and institutions to get more involved in expanding take-up of the qualification.
He announced that funding for an extra 10,000 foundation degree places would be available next year, along with £5.5 million to develop new foundation degrees. The government expects the funding, along with a £6 million advertising and marketing campaign, to increase full-time equivalent foundation degree student numbers to 50,000 by 2005-06.
Mr Johnson said: "With the introduction of any new qualification, there are bound to be questions. Is the quality right? Do they represent value for money? Do they respond to employers concerns? I hope this foundation degree report and today's Ucas figures prove how successful they have been."
He acknowledged that part of the planned growth in foundation degrees would come from the replacement of some higher national diploma courses. Awarding body Edexcel has set up nine regional consortia led by nine higher education institutions to develop "generic" foundation degrees to run alongside HNDs.
Some public services are committed to supporting staff on part-time foundation degree courses. Sir John Stevens, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: "We want to get as many of our people onto foundation degree courses as possible."
Ucas' latest figures, released on Tuesday, show another rise in the number of entrants in total to higher education, up 1.3 per cent on 2002.
Acting Ucas deputy chief executive Jess Enderby said there had been some surprises this year. The number of applicants to maths, which has been in the doldrums for a number of years, were up 13 per cent.
Mr Johnson said: "This increase in acceptances is good news and dispels the notion that the introduction of fees would discourage participation. More students are realising that higher education can bring them better opportunities."