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«Understanding Higher Education in Further Education Colleges JUNE 2012 Gareth Parry University of Sheffield Claire Callender, Peter Scott and Paul Temple ...»

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BIS RESEARCH PAPER NUMBER 69

Understanding Higher Education in

Further Education Colleges

JUNE 2012

Gareth Parry

University of Sheffield

Claire Callender, Peter Scott and Paul Temple

Institute of Education University of London

The views expressed in this report are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of

the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

1 Victoria Street

London, SW1H 0ET www.BIS.gov.uk Research paper number 69 June 2012 Understanding higher education in further education institutions Contents Contents

Executive summary

1 Introduction

1.1 Report structure

1.2 Researching higher education in further education colleges

1.2.1 Data collection and coverage

1.2.2 Dual sectors and definitions

1.2.3 Quality monitoring and reporting

1.3 Research aim and objectives

1.4 Overview of methodology and methods

1.4.1 Analysis of administrative data

1.4.2 Review of literature

1.4.3 Fieldwork in case-study colleges

1.4.4 Interviews with managers in FECs and partner universities

1.4.5 Survey of college students

1.4.6 In-class discussion groups

1.4.7 Interviews with employers

1.5 Policy development and research timetable

2 Context and overview

2.1 Government policy and the context for the research

2.1.1 Colleges in the 2011 White Paper on higher education

2.1.2 Higher education in the reform plan for further education and skills

–  –  –

2.2 History and policy

2.2.1 HEFCE review and request for strategies

2.2.2 Increasing access and widening participation

2.3 Students, programmes and partnerships

2.3.1 Types and trends in the pattern of qualifications

2.3.2 LSC responsibility and strategy

2.3.3 Colleges and employer engagement

2.4 Funding, teaching and staffing

2.4.1 Routes and rates of funding and the costs of provision

2.4.2 Teaching, staffing and scholarly activity

2.5 Quality, standards and the higher education experience

2.5.1 Colleges and the power to award degrees

2.5.2 Colleges and the outcomes of QAA review

2.5.3 Colleges in the National Student Survey

2.5.4 Features of difference and distinctiveness

2.6 Summary and conclusions

3 Patterns of provision and participation

3.1 Introduction

3.2 Qualifications and modes of study

3.3 College providers and programmes

3.4 Highest qualification on entry

3.5 Subjects of study

3.6 Age, gender, ethnicity and disability

3.7 Widening participation and region

3.8 Funding routes

–  –  –

3.9 Indirect funding partnerships

3.10 Employment

3.11 Summary and conclusions

4 Strategies of colleges and partner higher education institutions

4.1 Introduction

4.2 Further education colleges

4.2.1 Current provision

4.2.2 Rationales

4.2.3 Future provision

4.2.4 Students

4.2.5 Organisation of higher education provision

4.2.6 Partnerships with HEIs

4.2.7 Costs

4.2.8 Quality and standards

4.2.9 Student experience and learning culture

4.3 Higher education institutions: partnership perspectives

4.3.1 Strategic drivers/rationales

4.3.2 Present provision and future plans

4.3.3 Fees and costs

4.3.4 Academic quality, teaching and the student experience

4.4 Summary and conclusions

4.4.1 Key findings with regard to FECs

4.4.2 Key findings with regard to HEIs

4.5 Conclusions

5 Decisions and experiences of students

–  –  –

5.1 Introduction

5.2 Outline of the chapter

5.3 The characteristics of the students surveyed

5.3.1 Socio-economic characteristics of the students surveyed

5.3.2 The course characteristics of the students surveyed

5.4 Choices and decision making

5.4.1 Reasons for entering higher education

5.4.2 Reasons for taking a course at a college rather than a university and their attitudes towards colleges and universities

5.4.3 Reasons for selecting their course, and their particular college

5.4.4 An informed choice?

5.4.5 Summary and conclusions

5.5 Experiences of studying and attitudes to study

5.5.1 How hard students had to work

5.2.2 Hours of study

5.5.3 Attitudes to study

5.5.4 Student identity and contact with their validating university

5.5.5 Summary and conclusions

5.6 Costs of studying and concerns about the costs

5.6.1 Tuition fees

5.6.2 How students paid for their course fees

5.6.3 Concerns about the costs of study

5.6.4 Summary and conclusions

5.7 Students’ career and future plans

5.7.1 Summary and conclusions

–  –  –





5.8 Widening participation and the college learning environment

5.8.1 Summary and conclusions

5.9 Conclusions

6 Views and valuations of employers

6.1 Introduction

6.2 Characteristics of the employers

6.3 Employer involvement with colleges and universities

6.4 Colleges and universities as sources of recruitment

6.5 Colleges and universities as providers of CPD

6.6 Support for employees to undertake CPD

6.7 Collaboration in course design and delivery

6.8 Summary and conclusions

7 Synthesis, discussion and conclusions

7.1 Introduction

7.2 Higher education in further education

7.3 Key themes

7.3.1 FEC case studies

7.3.2 Student survey

7.3.3 Employer interviews

7.4 Policy implications

7.4.1 Expanding provision

7.4.2 Widening participation

7.4.3 Promoting flexibility

7.4.4 Encouraging cost-effective delivery

8 Bibliography

–  –  –

9 Technical Appendix

9.1 Selecting the case study colleges

9.2 Selecting the students to be surveyed at the case study colleges

9.3 The survey of college students

9.3.1 Fieldwork team

9.4 Piloting the survey

9.5 Conducting the survey

9.6 The achieved sample

9.7 Survey data

9.8 Discussion groups with students

10 Decisions and experiences of students on non-prescribed courses

10.1 Introduction

10.2 The characteristics of the students surveyed

10.2.1 Socio-economic characteristics of the students surveyed

10.1.1 The course characteristics of the students surveyed

10.3 Choices and decision making

10.3.1 Reasons for entering higher education

10.3.2 Reasons for taking a course at a college rather than a university and their attitudes towards colleges and universities

10.3.3 Reasons for selecting their course, and their particular college

10.3.4 An informed choice?

10.4 Experiences of studying and attitudes to study

10.4.1 How hard student had to work

10.4.2 Hours of study

10.4.3 Attitudes to study

–  –  –

10.4.4 Student identity and contact with their validating university

10.5 Costs of studying and concerns about the costs

10.5.1 Tuition fees and how students paid for their fees

10.6 Students’ career and future plans

10.7 Summary and conclusions

–  –  –

Executive summary This summary presents the main findings from research undertaken for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to understand the current nature of higher education (HE) in further education colleges (FECs) in England. The study was carried out between March 2011 and March 2012 by a team from the University of Sheffield and the Institute of Education, University of London.

The research involved a range of qualitative and quantitative approaches, including: a review of the relevant literature; an analysis of administrative data on provision and participation; fieldwork in case-study FECs; interviews with managers in colleges and their partner higher education institutions (HEIs); a questionnaire survey of students coupled with in-class discussion groups; and interviews with employers.

An overview of the design and conduct of the study is given in Chapter 1, including its aims, sources, methods and timetable. Methods of data collection and analysis are also described in relevant chapters and appendices.

Features of development: the findings of the literature review  FECs are long-standing providers of HE. Some trace their higher-level work back to the 1950s and 1960s. Others came into HE as a result of the rapid expansion during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Part of this growth was by way of franchising: the sub-contracting (indirect funding) of the teaching of courses to colleges by partner HEIs. Expansion took place in colleges despite legislation in 1988 and 1992 to concentrate growth on institutions in the HE sector. This policy was reversed following the report of the Dearing inquiry into HE.

 Policies since 1997 have sought a larger role for colleges in undergraduate education. The Dearing report recommended that colleges be accorded a special mission in HE below the Bachelors’ level based on direct funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and focused on qualifications like the Higher National Diploma (HND) and Higher National Certificate (HNC). An enhanced role for FECs was accepted by the Blair Government. However, indirect funding was subsequently favoured over direct funding and a new work-focused Foundation Degree (FD) was intended to replace Higher National (HN) qualifications.

 Lead responsibility for policy and development is vested with HEFCE. By virtue of its power to fund courses of prescribed higher education (postgraduate and undergraduate education) in colleges, HEFCE is responsible for guiding and developing higher education in the further education (FE) sector. At the same time, the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) is able to fund non-prescribed courses (higher level professional and vocational qualifications) in FECs. This has not been a policy priority for the SFA and its predecessors. As a consequence, the number of students on non-prescribed programmes has declined.

Understanding higher education in further education institutions

 Funding, quality and reporting arrangements for HE in colleges are divided and complex. HE in colleges is funded in three main ways: direct by HEFCE;

indirect by HEFCE (through franchising); and by the SFA and other non-HEFCE sources. Its courses come under two quality assurance bodies: the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) for direct and indirectly funded undergraduate education; and by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) for higher level qualifications funded by the SFA. Data on HE students registered at HEIs and taught in FECs is collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). Data on HE students registered at colleges is collected by the Data Agency. The methodologies for funding, quality and data collection are not aligned.

 There is little evidence of overall growth in college-taught HE. Some individual colleges have seen a growth in undergraduate numbers but expansion in the postDearing years has proved difficult to achieve. One explanation has to do with the specificity of the local and regional markets for students and for courses sought by employers. A second has to do with low visibility and status of higher education in FECs. A third explanation is in terms of the two-sector structure and organisation of the system which was designed to keep HE and FE in separate sectors. Lastly, there is the argument (advanced by HEFCE) that some colleges have been insufficiently strategic in their planning and management of higher education.

 Confidence in the quality and standards of their HE is reported for nearly all colleges. Between 2002 and 2007, the QAA conducted 310 reviews in 232 FECs across 20 different subjects. The reviewers had confidence in the standards of around 94 per cent of the provision. Between 2008 and 2010, 165 summative reviews were completed. Judgements of confidence in standards of provision were made in all but three cases. Assessments of the quality of learning opportunities resulted in confidence judgements in all but two instances. These results were comparable to the outcomes of institutional audits in HEIs over the same period.

 A lower overall level of student satisfaction with undergraduate education in colleges is reported. The National Student Survey (NSS) in 2008. 2009 and 2010 reported lower overall satisfaction with the quality of courses among students taught in FECs than for those in HEIs. There were differences as well in the responses to questions on assessment and feedback (where college students were more satisfied) and for learning resources and for organisation and management (where college students were less satisfied).

 Teaching and learning is acknowledged to be distinctive in college settings.

Unlike their counterparts in HEIs, HE students were a minority of the student population in FECs where teaching was mostly at the further education levels. In colleges with sizeable amounts of HE, there were separate spaces for students, including dedicated campuses and buildings. Elsewhere, there was more sharing of facilities. HE students in colleges were frequently taught in smaller classes than in HEIs and they enjoyed regular access to teaching staff. Their lecturers also taught more hours than colleagues in HEIs. Contracts for staff in FECs did not require them to undertake research, although they were increasingly expected to undertake scholarly activity.

–  –  –

These and other aspects of contemporary policy, practice and development are outlined in Chapter 2.

Patterns of provision and participation: the evidence of administrative data  Around one in twelve higher education students (eight per cent of the HE population) were taught in FECs. In 2009-10, 177,000 students were studying for undergraduate, postgraduate and other higher level qualifications in the further education sector. The majority (61%) were pursuing courses of undergraduate education. Another 36% were studying for other higher-level qualifications. The rest (three per cent) were postgraduate students.

 Most HE students in FECs – 60% of the total – studied on a part-time basis.

However, this was not the case for the college-taught undergraduate population where just over one-half (55%) were defined as full-time students. Within the ranks of undergraduate education, those undertaking Bachelors’ Degrees, Foundation Degrees and HNDs were mostly full-time students. By contrast, 93% of the 64,000 students pursuing other higher level qualifications were part-time in their mode of study.

 HE was taught in the great majority of FECs. Some 283 colleges offered programmes at these levels. This accounted for nearly all general FECs (224 out of

225) and a majority of specialist colleges and specialist designated institutions (25 out of 33). Only a minority of sixth form colleges (34 out of 91) offered one or more courses of HE.

 A minority of FECs account for the majority of HE students. Fifty-two colleges taught one-half of the higher education students in the further education sector.

Each of these colleges had over 1000 higher education students, with over 4000 at the largest providers. At other end of the sector, there were 43 FECs (mostly sixth form colleges) with less than 100 higher education students.



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