Sturdy foundations

April 21, 2000

Contrary to your lead article ("Industry wary of sub-degrees", THES, April 14), foundation degrees do respond to employers' needs.

Britain suffers from a historic deficit of technical and professional skills, and labour market forecasts indicate growing demand for them.

I was intrigued by your bizarre interpretation of the Confederation of British Industry survey and struggled to believe it was the same as the one presented to the Department for Education and Employment's foundation degree group.

This survey reports a very positive response to the foundation degree. Fully 85 per cent of respondents welcomed a vocationally oriented foundation degree, and the majority of employers were prepared to back this with action - by encouraging their employees to study part-time for this qualification, supporting work-based assessment and accreditation and offering work-experience placements.

Employers anticipated increased demand over the next ten years for specialist technical knowledge, academic underpinning and transferable skills. These are precisely the building blocks on which the foundation degree is founded.

The introduction of a new higher education qualification is a significant undertaking. Your article's reference to a "big bang" approach whereby more than 32,000 students would enrol on foundation degree programmes in autumn 2001 is wildly off the mark. Instead, ministers propose a measured approach beginning with a relatively small number of prototypes that would take their first students in autumn 2001.

The subsequent pace of the proposed expansion of higher education is subject to the outcome of this year's comprehensive spending review.

Ivor Crewe, Vice-chancellor, University of Essex, Chair DFEE foundation degree group

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