HE in FE: truths and illusions

Degree courses at further education colleges have the potential to ‘change lives, not society’, argues scholar

November 20, 2014

Source: Alamy

Two sides: FE graduates are more likely to earn less than university counterparts

The idea that provision of higher education courses in further education colleges can advance social mobility is an “illusion”, a researcher has argued.

Kevin Orr, a reader in work and learning at the University of Huddersfield, found that graduates from “HE in FE” courses were more likely to be unemployed and to earn less than their counterparts who had attended higher education institutions.

“HE in FE is not even going to scratch social mobility. It is hope-goading gloss to suggest otherwise,” Dr Orr told a seminar organised by the Society for Research into Higher Education.

But Dr Orr, who used to be a teacher in a further education college, said that this did not mean that there was no point in offering higher education qualifications outside universities. He argued that this level of study could still have a powerful impact on individuals, and that it could give people an understanding of society that they might otherwise be unable to access.

A paper presented by Dr Orr says that although higher education participation among poorer communities is growing, it is increasing at a similar rate among people with more affluent backgrounds.

Drawing on data produced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Dr Orr writes that higher education students from the most disadvantaged quintile are twice as likely to attend a further education college as a university, and that the inverse is true for the most privileged quintile.

But 16 per cent of higher education course graduates who left further education colleges in 2011 were still unemployed six months later, compared with 10 per cent of higher education institution graduates, the paper says.

Only 6 per cent of the further education college leavers were carrying out further study, which Dr Orr describes as a “new and necessary distinguisher of social position”, compared with 16 per cent of university graduates. Starting salaries of further education college leavers were also 16 per cent lower than their university counterparts.

The paper says that there is “no evidence” that provision of higher education courses in further education colleges had an impact on lessening income inequality, even while it widened participation.

Dr Orr concludes that his findings meant tutors on higher education courses in further education colleges should end their “alienating attempt to achieve parity” with universities. Instead, they should re-examine their curricula to ensure that they focus on imparting an understanding of knowledge that has previously been the preserve of a privileged group in society.

“This may not change society, but it might change lives”, the paper says.


Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Fully-funded Studentships In Social Sciences NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY (NTU)
Fully-funded Studentships In Science and Technology NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY (NTU)
Fully-funded Studentships within Nottingham Law School NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY (NTU)
Fully-funded Studentships In Arts and Humanities NOTTINGHAM TRENT UNIVERSITY (NTU)

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Microlight pilot flies with flock of cranes

Reports of UK-based researchers already thinking of moving overseas after Brexit vote

Portrait montage of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage

From Donald Trump to Brexit, John Morgan considers the challenges of a new international political climate