As colleges begin to plan for 2019/20 this offers a time of reflection. Both Further Education and Higher Education must have looked back on 2018 as a troubled time, with disruption to funding, changes in policy and public confidence confused with 2019 heralding likely more change through Auger Review and the post-Brexit public finance apocalypse.

Colleges and HEIs have been thrown the skills challenge relating to solving the often quoted economic “productivity puzzle”.

As the lines of distinction at level 4 / 5 work blur and with 1 in 10 students studying Higher Education in Further Education settings, now is the time when Further Education and Higher Education might wish to reflect and think about how together it becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

What can these educational cousins learn from one another?

Managing reputation through troubled and changing landscapes

Colleges can learn huge amounts from Higher Education about managing reputation through troubled and changing landscapes. This may seem a strange thing to say in the context of the Vice Chancellor pay scandal of 2018 and the current public perception of Higher Education but Universities, will, of course, weather the storm. Further Education gets kicked around as the ubiquitous political football or occasionally left in the games cupboard all together.

This rarely happens to Higher Education. Funding flows consistently, the purpose and product offer is well understood and clear and most importantly respected by Government with a strong supportive political lobby.

HE can assist Colleges in the Copernican revolution required to embrace scholarly activity. Research is within the raisan d’etre of the University but professional learning in further education has often been restricted to teaching and learning “tricks” and stationary inputs.

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The research base particularly in leadership, educational psychology and social science can be brought to bare in FE; providing a much needed secure research foundation on which policy could be built.

Getting closer community and employer engagement

Further Education can offer the Higher Education sector some much needed support in how to get closer to local community engagement and employers, especially the SME market, which is an intrinsic element of a successful college.

Apprenticeships are a trusted brand with Colleges, but less so and arguably less understood by HEIs. The Government are committed to higher and degree apprenticeships to support technicians in industry, supported by the changes to the employer Apprenticeship Levy. Colleges know how to do this and do this well.

In addition, for Further Education, the HND / HNC concept has never gone far away. Whilst many Universities are beginning to rediscover the call for employers to polytechnic style deliver is loud and clear.

Some Universities have crashed back into this market and could have done so with more graceful entrances if they worked with their local Further Education College.

Colleges operate well in this technical level four and level five space. They are often well resourced in core subjects such as engineering and HEI should think carefully before replicating capital resources in these areas.

The flipside is Higher Education has complementary and higher level technical facilities such as world class standard laboratories and computer modelling far out of reach of the local Further Education College. Perhaps working together industry might get the “best of both” it deserves.

Student support, understanding wellbeing and mental health support

Further Education excels in student support, understanding wellbeing and mental health support. Higher Education has arguably been late to the party with this agenda. Strategies with improving retention, academic support with assignments and whole student approaches are well established and we can share these activities.

Recently with our partner university, the University of Suffolk, we are sharing our tactics with retention and gaining higher scores in NSS. This joint approach to solving shared issues can be easily replicated across the sector.

Jo Johnson, before his ‘brexit exit’ announced two year degrees demonstrating that universities will have challenges ahead to respond for what future prospective students may demand.

Further Education has long since been consumer led with its work in employer devised apprenticeships, or vocational and technical programmes to enhance the traditional A level curriculum.

With a quarter of students entering Higher Education from BTEC programmes Colleges can help universities connect with these students in terms of support and pedagogy, supporting the widening participation agenda and social mobility high in current Government priorities.  

The quest for a seamless education journey at every step

The barriers that exist between education sectors are artificial and falsely reinforced by our own prejudices, academic traditions and institutional arrogance. Surely the quest is for a seamless education journey every step through someone’s life.

Young people, local communities, and the emerging economy need this more than ever. As the world responds to technological change and a return of multi-career lifelong learning.

When it comes to Further and Higher Education we clearly have much we can learn from one another. Closing ranks in troubled times is essential when the requirement to justify our respective sectors in the squeeze in public finances as increase in educational surveillance through REF / TEF and OFSTED and increased market forces in pervasive.

Colleges and universities side by side by 2020 will be not only a force for good but a force to be reckoned with.

Stuart Rimmer, CEO and Principal, East Coast College

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