Summary of findings done by Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to understand the nature of Higher Education (HE) in Further Education Colleges (FECs). It included interviews with mangers in colleges, survey of students, in class discussions and interviews with employers.
There is little evidence of growth in college taught Higher Education. This could be down to:
- the specificity of the local and regional markets for students and courses sought by employers
- low visibility and status of HE in FECs
- the structure and organisation of the system that currently keeps HE and FE in separate sectors.
There is confidence in quality and standards of HE in FECs.
- The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) conducted 310 reviews on 232 FECs between 2002 and 2007. Reviewers had confidence in standards in around 94% of these. These results are comparable to results in HEI’s over the same period.
- In 2008, 2009 & 2010, overall student satisfaction was better in HEIs than in FECs – especially with regard to learning resources, organisation and management. However college students were more satisfied with assessment and feedback compared with those at a HEI.
Teaching and learning is acknowledged to be distinctive in college settings.
- HE students are the minority in FECs
- In colleges with sizeable amounts of HE, some had separate spaces for students, including dedicated campuses and buildings .
- However most showed no separation in the organisation of HE courses. Most staff teach FE and HE and workloads are similar.
- HE students in colleges are taught in smaller classes and get regular access to teaching staff – unlike in a HEI
- 8% of all HE students study in FECs
Perspectives of colleges
- Manages interviewed saw HE in colleges as complementary to rather than competitive with HEIs.
- The major factors for HE in FECs were 1 – employer engagement and 2 – access. Students are more likely to be ‘local’
- The cost of providing HE in colleges is lower than in HEIs. This is due to lower average teaching costs and greater staff productivity.
- The ‘learning culture’ of HE students in colleges is different from those in a HEI. They are seen as benefitting more from intensive classroom contact and placing lower value on extra-curricular activities. However the concern is about the breadth of experience offered to students in FECs. Academic standards were not regarded as a major issue by either FEC or HEI managers.
Student Decisions and Experience
- Student motives for entering HE: they wanted to improve their life changes and job prospects.
- 17% of those studying a BA thought they had applied to a university rather than a college. Two thirds of students only applied to the college they were attending. 29% also applied to a university. Those that picked college over university did so because of smaller class sizes.
- College students identified with the label ‘university student’ rather than ‘college student’
- The lack of separation between HE courses and FE courses make university more appealing
- This lack of definition contributes to different views about the effectiveness of HE in FECs
- A key advantage FECs have is their ability to reach students that HEIs struggle to reach – local students.
- This ability to attract local students and give them a more supportive learning environment is the main difference between HE in FECs
- Colleges are able to offer more cost-effective study then HEIs.
- FECs make an important contribution to the diversity of HE.
Things to think about:
- What FECs have separate facilities for HE students? What is their student satisfaction like? Can we contact them?