Colleges with degree-awarding powers will offer fresh opportunities to 'hybrid' lecturers. Tony Tysome reports
Fresh career opportunities for a "new breed of lecturer" will emerge when further education colleges gain powers to award their own foundation degrees, college heads have predicted.
More jobs, in lecturing and in administration, will open up in the interface between further and higher education after the Further Education Bill enters the statute books, which it is expected to do early in the next Parliamentary session after the summer recess.
The Association of Colleges has forecast that growth in the number of foundation degree courses, already strong, will receive a further boost as the Leitch agenda for the development of higher-level skills takes hold. The Government has accepted Leitch's target to get millions more adults into higher-level study by 2020, raising the proportion from about 30 per cent in 2005 to more than 40 per cent. It is predicted that some 100,000 students will take foundation degrees by 2010.
The AoC predicts that as competition and collaboration between colleges and universities increases, there will be increasing demand among colleges for teaching and administrative staff from universities. Maggie Scott, director of learning and quality for the AoC, said: "There is a huge, largely untapped market out there for foundation degrees. Colleges are trying to extend the market and are entering territory that is not the natural one of universities.
"If we are right about this demand, then there will need to be a new breed of lecturer - a hybrid of the traditional university lecturer with associated research skills, and someone with experience of the different approach to learning on foundation degree courses that colleges are trying to adopt."
These "different approaches" include close collaboration with business and industry - something that further education colleges have always argued they are better at than universities.
Colleges may poach lecturing staff, but there will also be demand for administrative staff. John Widdowson, principal of New College Durham and chair of the Mixed Economy Group of colleges, said: "Some colleges will want to attract university staff who have experience of higher education quality systems, because the quality checks they will have to go through will be quite rigorous."
There is also likely to be more movement of teaching staff from colleges into universities. "It is going to be mutually beneficial because it means there will be more people in universities and colleges who are familiar with each other's sector and talking the same language," he said.
But some vice-chancellors are still highly sceptical about further education's foray into degree-awarding territory. Malcolm McVicar, vice-chancellor of the University of Central Lancashire, predicted that it could cause some foundation degree courses to be shut down by universities.
"I doubt many universities would be interested in recruiting college staff. They would have to be offering something quite striking to compensate for not having a research track record," he said.