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Hundreds of students, employers and college staff will today lobby the House of Lords to support the introduction of degree-awarding powers to colleges.

In the recently published Further Education and Training Bill, Clause 19 gives local colleges the ability to award foundation degrees.

Statistics reveal that at present, over 50,000 people study for Foundation Degrees at colleges, but the power to officially award the degree still rests with universities. Supporters will push for the clause in order to allow colleges to sign off degrees at a faster rate, rather than having to involve a partner university; a lengthy and time-consuming process, according to reports.

Advocates include Dr John Brennan, Association of Colleges (AoC) Chief Executive. He noted on the debate: "We warmly welcome this new power as recognition of the contribution colleges make to higher education provision in England. While we don"t expect the powers to be taken by a large number of colleges, it is needed to allow colleges with large HE programmes to offer even better programmes. Nearly 15,000 students were accepted onto foundation degree courses in the current academic year "“ a rise of 17% since 2005".

Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, Bill Rammell said: "Some FE Colleges are already extremely well equipped to draw more learners into HE. The reforms we are proposing, by removing an unnecessarily strong legal constraint but upholding stringent quality criteria, will help them to do this even better".

"There are colleges that provide superb programmes, who have a great track record of working with employers, and in engaging with their communities. They will be managing a wide portfolio of Foundation Degree programmes, and looking to develop this over time "“ and to do so quickly, while employer interest is still there. The need to get each new programme validated by an external body is a constraint on a college's ability to do this".

Ellie Russell, NUS Vice President, said: "This could be an important step towards facilitating and increasing access for those who would not have traditionally gone into higher education. FE colleges are already justly praised for the diversity of both their learners and their curriculum offer, making them doubly well-placed to rise to the challenges of the Leitch Review of Skills and sector self-regulation".

However, critics have expressed their concern on the proposed power.

Baroness Blackstone, speaking in the recent House of Lords debate on the issue, said: "Such expansion risks mission overstretch. A university is, moreover, defined by its degree-awarding powers. FE colleges are not universities, nor should they aspire to take on the role of universities. They already have, as I indicated, many other vital roles".

"The most worrying aspect is that the clause threatens partnership arrangements between FE and HE", she added.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe said: "My fear is that there is very likely to be a period of planning blight in which universities are reluctant to collaborate with FE colleges that might become their future competitors. Given that uncertainty, the pace of the development will slow. There is a real danger that both the uptake and the provision of foundation degree places will contract rather than expand as a result of the measures in the Bill".

And Baroness Morris of Yardley added: "To become a degree-awarding college will be an incentive that every principal worth his or her salt will pursue. It is a key decision. Once you open the door, you cannot close it to any college that reaches the standard. It cannot be number-limited; it has to be quality limited. There is no notion of how many may achieve that standard".

Vijay Pattni.

What do you think about degree awarding powers for colleges?

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Related FE News articles:

Government Publish FE Bill "“ 22/11/06


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