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Sector cautiously welcomes HE in FE White Paper

FE advocates have cautiously welcomed government plans to allow colleges to better compete against universities – part of a government strategy to boost higher education.

The coalition government’s Higher Education white paper, released last week, lays out plans to help more FE colleges and private providers teach HE.

“For many people, entry to higher education does not follow the traditional … route,” says the paper, titled Students at the Heart of the System.

“We want a diverse, competitive system that can offer different types of higher education so that students can choose freely between a wide range of providers.”

The plans include allowing universities to recruit as many top students as they like, and other changes to student quotas.

Importantly for colleges, the government will allocate 20,000 HE student places to the strongest bidders from all institutions charging less than £7,500.

“Most FE colleges teaching HE will charge £6,000 or less and are therefore likely to be the main beneficiaries of this ‘flexible margin,’ said the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) in a statement.

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Other advocates echoed NIACE’s welcoming of the plans.

Lynne Sedgmore heads the 157 Group, a lobby representing major FE colleges in England. She said: “The government’s white paper confirms the 157 Group’s belief that further education colleges are central to the future of higher education policy.”

Some 250 FE colleges already teach HE, Sedgmore noted. “Their strengths include combining high?quality teaching with responsiveness to local employment needs – crucial for a nation grappling with high unemployment.”

Martin Doel, head of the Association of Colleges, said: “Allowing more institutions to award degrees and foundation degrees will ultimately increase the opportunities for students who want to pursue vocational, employment-focused higher education in colleges. This is a positive commitment to widening participation.”
NIACE warned, however, that private providers might ‘cherry pick’ profitable courses, at the expense of a broad curriculum.

“The government will need to ensure increased competition does not have a negative impact on access for part-time and adult students,” the group said.

Rachel Millard

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