'HE in FE' holds its own in National Student Survey

Students rate the feedback they receive in further education colleges, writes Rebecca Attwood

February 5, 2009

Students studying higher education courses in further education colleges are more satisfied with some aspects of their experience than their university counterparts.

An analysis of the 2008 National Student Survey (NSS) figures was published to coincide with a one-day event last week at Aston University that looked at "improving the HE in FE student experience".

It shows that those studying in further education colleges are, on average, happier with the assessment and feedback they receive - and just as many think that staff have made the subject interesting.

Although further education colleges do not score as well on "intellectual stimulation", the organisation of courses and learning resources, David Collins, president of the Association of Colleges, said the results showed that higher education was as good in colleges as it was in universities.

"Colleges are strong in the way in which they provide feedback to students and the general support they give. I think in many cases they are closer to their higher education students because there are fewer of them, so they get more personalised attention in colleges than they might do at university," he said.

"We are finding that more and more young people are choosing higher education in colleges where possible. First of all, they don't have to move away from home and incur the same degree of debt, and second, they are happy that the quality of what is being offered is as good as the local university."

Students studying higher education in further education colleges were included in the NSS for the first time last year. Some 67 per cent said the feedback they received on their work was helpful, compared with 57 per cent in higher education institutions.

More further education college students think assessment arrangements and marking are fair (77 per cent against 73 per cent) and more agreed that marking criteria are clear (74 per cent against 70 per cent).

Some 73 per cent said they had received detailed comments on their work, compared with 62 per cent in universities.

But fewer - 77 per cent against 83 per cent - said their course was intellectually stimulating. Only 64 per cent said they had been able to access specialist equipment, against 76 per cent of respondents from universities. And 71 per cent said library resources were good enough compared with 81 per cent in universities.

Finally, 58 per cent said courses were well organised and ran smoothly, against 70 per cent in universities.

Dr Collins pointed out that many colleges had deals with local universities that allowed students on higher education courses access to their libraries.

"I think in some cases students weren't as happy with the timetables in colleges. I think part of the reason for that is that college students tend to be taught more [timetabled hours] than university students on similar programmes, so they haven't got the same freedom."

Overall, 31 per cent of students in further education colleges strongly agreed that they were satisfied with their courses and 45 per cent were mostly satisfied.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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