Access to higher education courses needs to be revamped and given a promotional boost, quality watchdogs have told the government, writes Tony Tysome.
Inconsistent and confusing assessment standards should be straightened out and cash problems resolved so that access courses can take a more central role in widening participation, says a Quality Assurance Agency report launched today.
A year-long study by the QAA concludes that there is an "absence of a clear strategic context to support and drive the development of access".
It says the funding regime classifies access courses as "other provision", gives them "second-order status" and presents scant opportunities for development.
Variations in credit requirements for the award of the access to higher education certificate are a "major cause of confusion and concern", and there are also worries about the robustness of moderation on some courses.
As well as addressing these problems, there is an urgent need for a national campaign to promote the courses to address their lack of visibility, the report adds.
Access courses "should not be seen as an adjunct to the rest of the education system... but a central and integral part of the structure of educational opportunity".
Kath Dentith, QAA assistant director, said the cash crisis faced by further education next year raised "problems about how access courses might now progress".
She said: "Because the emphasis for the Learning and Skills Council must be on priorities to do with the skills strategy it means there is little room for manoeuvre in terms of access to HE."
- Justin Hawkins , lead singer of The Darkness, studied for a national diploma in music technology at Huddersfield College.
"The tech had a really good reputation and no one else was offering a music technology course like it. Before The Darkness, I wrote songs for TV and radio adverts and I didn't have a clue about how to write rock. The tech really helped me."
- Robert Lindsay studied at Clarendon College,now New College Nottingham."Without my tutors' support, enthusiasm, encouragement and teaching skills I wouldn't have joined the entertainment industry...The college was more than a stepping stone...it was a bridge."
- Jimmy Choo , world famous shoe designer, studied at Cordwainers, part of which is now Capel Manor College.
"A shoe can be a work of art, but you can't get away with not having basic technical knowledge, like pattern cutting and production, and that's what I was taught."
- Kim Wilde , singer, gardening writer and TV presenter, studied at Capel Manor College in London."The inspired tutors opened my eyes to a whole new world and the high standards on which they insisted instilled a respect for a subject that demands no less. Going back to college quite literally changed my life."