The focus of Colleges Week this year is on helping students make informed decisions about their progression and promoting colleges as a high-quality, affordable route to achieving further and higher education qualifications. In light of Lord Browne’s recommendation that individuals and employers should bear more of the cost of higher education, and the spending review announcement about higher tuition fees, it is clear that learners will need to think carefully about their education choices.
In October, the 157 Group of 28 large, successful colleges published a policy paper, Rising to the challenge: how FE colleges are key to the future of HE, in which we set out our vision for further education colleges’ role in delivering the new higher education agenda. The FE sector already makes a large, distinctive and valuable contribution to the provision of HE in England, with one in eight undergraduates studying for their degree in FE colleges, and we envisage this number increasing as learners seek to mitigate the costs of studying at HE level.
The provision of high-quality HE in FE colleges is much overlooked and under-reported, and we want to raise awareness of its availability and particular strengths. FE colleges provide higher education locally and cost-effectively, which is especially helpful for those who might not otherwise be able to participate, including people in full-time or part-time employment and those from non-traditional groups. Combining high-quality teaching with responsiveness to local employment needs, colleges are also effective at widening participation and offering progression opportunities for those on vocational and work-based programmes, allowing people to access higher education without having to leave their jobs or community.
Compared to universities, colleges draw more heavily on teaching and learning, and offer learners more face-to-face time with tutors. They have strong links with local employers and a keen focus on employability. They are well-placed to supply the technician-level skills that have been identified as a key requirement for sustained economic growth. All in all, colleges make a vital contribution to the economy, to society and to local communities.
At a time when the unprecedented demand for higher education and higher-level skills cannot be met solely by the public purse, further education colleges offer a credible and affordable option for prospective HE learners. The 157 Group member colleges are heavily involved in promoting Colleges Week 2010 as an ideal time to celebrate the achievements and successes of learners in FE colleges around the country and to highlight the wide range of options available to those who choose to study for higher education qualifications in colleges.
Lynne Sedgmore is executive director of the 157 Group, which represents 28 of the most influential colleges in the FE sector
Rising to the challenge: how FE colleges are key to the future of HE is available to download in PDF format at 157 Group’s website
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