From education to employment

Further education colleges are vital and a more accessible way for many to gain higher education qualifications

mark jones from Swansea college

Local further education colleges are ‘the way to go’ for studying towards a foundation degree, HNC or HND and provide an alternative pathway to traditional universities, opening doors to education for many who might face barriers in pursuing higher education through conventional means. Here, Gower College Swansea Chief Executive, Mark Jones, shares his thoughts.

Last Autumn saw Gower College Swansea hold our annual Higher Education Graduation ceremony for students studying higher education and professional courses at the college.

Breadth of HE offer at FE colleges

Attendees at our graduation events are always surprised by the sheer diversity of higher education courses delivered by the college. Whilst most HE students attending university graduations are collecting their undergraduate (Level 6) or postgraduate awards, things look a little different in a College setting. Students here are studying at Level 4, 5, 6 and 7 – HE students at the College were collecting their HNCs (Level 4), HNDs and Foundation Degrees (Level 5), National Vocational Qualifications and Professional Qualifications (Level 4 to 7). Some were even collecting their full undergraduate BSc or BA (Level 6) qualifications. Indeed, recent research suggests that FE institutions have been the market leaders in level 4 and 5 programmes for a considerable time.

But whatever the course, the quality of teaching and learning remains consistently high. To achieve this, we work closely with our HE partners. In the case of Gower College Swansea, we enjoy strong partnerships with Swansea University, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Cardiff University, Cardiff Metropolitan University and the University of South Wales – all of whom franchise the delivery of programmes to us. We are also subject to assessment by the Quality Assurance Agency in the same way that our university partners are.

Diversity of learners

As well as the diverse range of HE courses delivered at the college, so too is the range of students who study here. Many students are a little older, possibly returning to education to develop their skills, knowledge and career aspirations. The student cohort is very much representative of the local communities that the college serves. At this year’s graduation ceremony, I was once again taken by the number of mums and dads receiving awards, whilst their children tried on their ‘hats’ whilst looking up to their parents and being so proud of their awards that they have worked so diligently to achieve. It was a great atmosphere.

Flexibility of study

Whilst a number of our students study on a full-time basis, many others study part time specifically those who are employed, and as such, a strong relationship between the employer, the employee and the college is key to the ultimate success for all FE students. What this means is that not only are courses tailored to meet the needs of local employers in construction, social care, software design and development, housing, and facilities management, but individual modules or assessments within these programmes can often be tailored to meet the specific needs of these employers. Many of the college lecturers have come from industry – prior to them training as lecturers – and so this adds even further credibility to the HE experience.

Studying higher education at a further education college can be very different from studying at a university. Most colleges have discrete HE centres, with smaller class sizes and courses that are generally more vocational and linked to local priorities and local employers. Students have the best of both worlds; in that they are members of both the college and the franchising university and as such for those students achieve a Level 6 qualification, they are invited to attend both the University and the College graduation events.

What the future looks like for HE in FE in Wales

With the introduction of the new Commission for Tertiary Education and Research this year which will bring universities and colleges together with school sixth forms and work based learning providers, I am hopeful that this will provide even greater opportunities for universities and colleges to work even closer together in raising the number of people in Wales with a qualification at Level 4 or above – being an area where Wales lags behind the rest of the UK.

Gower College Swansea Students say

“I choose to study Higher Education at Gower College Swansea because I wanted to study my course locally and at times that fitted around my work commitments but without compromising on the quality of the teaching and learning available to me.”

“The support that I’ve received has been exceptional. We are taught in small groups by supportive lecturers with relevant industry experience and with the full range of support that a large College can provide.”

By Mark Jones, Gower College Swansea Chief Executive

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