Foundation degree might not meet needs, experts warn

November 24, 2000

Universities and colleges that will offer the foundation degree from next year were celebrating this week. However, some experts warned that the qualification will not achieve its objectives.

Institutions such as Leeds Metropolitan University have been successful in their bids. About 20 consortia of universities, colleges and employers will pilot the qualification. Some 56 applied.

However, at a conference held yesterday, John Goddard, pro vice-chancellor of the University of Newcastle, criticised foundation degrees for failing to meet regional needs.

He said: "Why has the debate about foundation degrees not fully engaged with that about the contribution of universities to local and regional development?

"It is a national initiative that is being parachuted into local areas. The whole thing has motored on without input from people who have knowledge of local needs and local employment patterns."

Regional development agencies do not have the skills and competence to judge the bids to offer foundation degrees and the Learning and Skills Council is yet to be fully established, added Professor Goddard.

Geoff Layer, professor of lifelong learning at the University of Bradford, attacked the foundation degree as being more about improving work-based training than achieving university access. He was particularly concerned at the lack of financial and academic support for part-time students.

He said: "A lot of the debate has been over the qualifications framework; very little has been over the needs of the learner. If we are serious about this initiative, it will require fundamental changes to student support."

He added that the evaluation of the pilot foundation degrees must include an assessment of how the learners' needs were met.

John Pratt, head of the centre for institutional studies at the University of East London, said that the foundation degree had parallels with the now-forgotten two-year diploma in higher education, launched in 1972.

He said: "I doubt that a two- year course would be accepted, recognised and valued by students or employers. Forming consortia between institutions and industry will not make any difference because industry speaks with a forked tongue. Companies don't always behave in the way they say they will."

For example, he said, even when a company welcomes the foundation degree, it would prefer to employ an Oxford English graduate. "I don't think it's likely that employers will pay staff the same for a two-year qualification as a full degree," he added.

The qualifications framework
Level 1: Certificates of higher education
Level 2: Foundation degrees, ordinary bachelors degrees, higher diplomas
Level 3: Bachelors degrees with honours, graduate certificates and diplomas
Level 4: Masters degrees, postgrad certificates and diplomas
Level 5: Doctorates

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