Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 6

Memorandum from the Association of Colleges (HE34)

SUMMARY OF RESPONSE

  The FE sector is well placed to contribute to the significant expansion of education encompassed in the Prime Minister's aim that in the next ten years 50 per cent of those under 30 will have had higher education experience. Widening participation has been at the heart of the FE College mission and FE draws in many groups that have not previously participated in further and higher education.

  The strengths of higher education within FE Colleges include responsiveness to local employment needs and flexibility in modes of delivery to meet the requirements of the student population. Where Colleges maintain strong links with employers they ensure their students are kept abreast of current industry requirements and there can be good progression to employment.

  Colleges recognise their accountability to their students, to employers and to the communities they serve and there are effective procedures that demonstrate and monitor accountability. The challenge of meeting the quality demands of a range of awarding bodies has resulted in FE Colleges developing robust and effective quality assurance systems.

Issues of concern

  There are differences in the quality assurance systems currently operated by FEFC in the FE sector and QAA in the HE sector. These present colleges with practical difficulties in seeking to satisfy two different regimes and throw up questions about the applicability of the QAA approach to the very different models of HE delivery adopted by FE Colleges to meet the needs of their students.

  Historic differences between funding levels for similar provision in FE colleges and universities have worked to the detriment of FE Colleges. Despite the current common funding levels for all types of work most FE colleges providing HE work have a legacy of under-resourcing which has affected the level of resources colleges can provide in areas such as library provision, as reflected in quality assessments by QAA.

  The effects of the funding policies in the 1990s, which aimed to reduce unit costs and secure greater efficiency in delivery, have impacted on staff pay and left colleges with problems in recruiting and retaining able and effective staff.

  The Association has strongly welcomed HEFCE's Code of Conduct to govern HE provision delivered through colleges under franchising arrangements with universities but notes the wide variations in the nature of the financial agreement between the partners.

  The Association believes that the inclusion of a modest achievement element in the funding formula can help sharpen institutional perceptions of the importance of helping students to attain their intended qualification.

  The Association believes is desirable to limit the amount of top-slicing of funds to maximise the funding distributed on the basis of clear and transparent formulae, and to allow institutions to determine how resources should be used to meet learner needs most effectively.

  The Association believes that the Government was right in principle in introducing a student contribution to the tuition costs of higher education. It notes that most learners following courses at further education level on a full or part-time basis, and most students following higher education courses part-time, receive levels of support far less than those available to full-time degree, HND and similar courses.

  In the view of the Association, the failure to provide an adequate system of student support for those at intermediate levels of study contributes to the poor UK record at this level. It supports the principle of loans for student support, repayable on an income-contingent basis from subsequent earnings. It believes it is right for some element of grant support to be retained alongside the loan scheme for those learners who face greatest hardship.

  The Association believes it a healthy trend for students to become more critical consumers as it encourages institutions to be more responsive to learner needs. Institutions in the FE sector offering HE courses adopt effective measures to ensure responsiveness.

  The Association recognises increasing collaboration between further and higher education institutions is necessary for the further development of higher education.

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Association of Colleges is the representative body for Further Education Colleges in England and Wales, established by the colleges themselves to provide a voice for further education at national level. Some 99 per cent of the 470 colleges in England and Wales are members.

  2.  The Association welcomes the decision of the Education and Employment Committee to undertake this inquiry. It shares the view that the quality of student experience is a central concern in the expansion of higher education to provide for an increased take-up by young people. It recognises that many of these young people will have socio-economic and educational profiles that differ from the majority of students currently studying in Higher Education Institutions.

WIDENING PARTICIPATION

  3.  Widening participation has been at the heart of the FE College mission and this extends to the courses provided for the 11 per cent of HE students studying in FE colleges. Monitoring statistics show that FE Colleges deliver HE to target audiences not always represented in Higher Education Institutions and therefore play a role in opening up higher education to non-traditional and disadvantaged entrants. UCAS data on new entrants to higher education shows marked differences between sub-degree and first degree entrants, with individuals from professional and managerial families much less in evidence in the former. This tends to confirm the experience of many colleges that their own intakes, both to sub-degree and degree courses where they are offered, are drawn much more strongly from skilled manual and non-manual families. FE Colleges additionally contribute to widening participation in HE by providing around 40 per cent of new entrants to degree courses, a significant proportion of whom progress from vocational and Access courses.

  4.  The FE sector has expanded its HE provision whilst seeking to refine systems to maintain the quality of its offer. FE Colleges provide more higher education today than in the whole of the University sector; at the time of the Robbins Report, some 190,000 HE students in 1997-98 as against 120,000 in all UK Universities in 1963 and numbers continue to grow with an additional 20,000 extra places being funded by HEFCE in the current year.

  5.  The FE sector is pivotally placed to contribute to the significant expansion of higher education encompassed in the Prime Minister's aim that in the next ten years 50 per cent of those under 30 will have experienced higher education. It is clear that if that objective is to be achieved, traditional forms of HE delivery will not suffice. The needs of young adults returning to learning after a period of work experience are very different from those of 18 year-old school and college leavers. Provision that is accessible to the home or the workplace, delivered on a flexible basis, with content which can be structured to suit individual personal and vocational needs, will be essential. FE colleges with their long history of local responsiveness, their closeness to employers, and wide experience of delivery through a multiplicity of local outlets are well placed to meet those needs.

  6.  The Association recognises that the continuing effectiveness of higher education provision in the FE sector rests on the credibility of the qualifications offered, and the underpinning which the quality assurance systems provide for that credibility. The FE sector is quite distinct from Universities and has developed quality assurance systems appropriate to its own models of HE delivery. The Association recognises that increasing collaboration between further and higher education institutions is necessary for the further development of higher education.

RESPONSE

How is "quality" in teaching and learning defined?

  7.  Practitioners recognise that a definition of quality in teaching and learning should encompass the following: fitness for purpose; ensuring learning content and objectives are appropriate to the needs of students and are continually adapted to reflect changing needs and developments in knowledge and understanding; rigour and intellectual challenge; stimulating curiosity and an enquiring mind; development of intellectual skills in analysis problem solving and creativity; high levels of attainment; appropriately qualified staff; premises, equipment and other resources appropriate to teaching and learning requirements. In sum, the effectiveness of provision in preparing students through expert tuition and fair and credible assessments to achieve appropriate qualifications to, where relevant, the satisfaction of employers.

  8.  Colleges employ a range of methods to assure the quality of teaching and learning and these are outlined later in response to the Committees' question about measuring teaching quality. It is through student achievement, however, that the effectiveness of these checks on quality can be demonstrated. Performance Indicators on student retention, achievement and progression, supplemented by positive feedback from employers, are pointers to the quality and effectiveness of a college's offer and are a tool colleges use to bring about improvement or maintain performance. Samples from two General Further Education Colleges, Cornwall College and Swindon College, are indications of what can be achieved (Annex 1 Performance Indicators)[9]. Cornwall College's HNC in Mechanical Engineering has received among others, the following feedback from an employer:

    "Following the success of the . . . Higher National Certificate—Mechanical Engineering, on which 14 engineers from my organisation gained an extremely useful qualification, I would like to offer my support in an extension . . . where suitable candidates are given the opportunity to study for the next level—Higher National Diploma—Mechanical Engineering."

    Extract from letter to the Head Engineering Studies Centre at Cornwall College.

  The following comments were made about student work exhibited at the National Retail Pack Exhibition at Olympia in 1999 from Industrial Visitors:

Packaging Manager

    "Some excellent innovative ideas coming from what I consider the best College for someone looking to build a career for themselves in the packaging industry."

Biscuit manufacturer

    "It is great to see the college actively participating in the exhibition and being present where the commercial world is. Some great ideas on the table. This is the way forward for a better education and business link."

Display company

    "We have employed one of your previous students who we are impressed with. Keep up the good work."

  9.  The Association believes that achievement of students following HE courses in FE Colleges should be viewed in the context of the target group. Typically HE students in an FE College differ from those in universities, as identified in research into degree-level achievement in FE (Bellamy, Helen, Widening participation in higher education, in Issues in contemporary further education, issue 1, Barnsley College; 1999). They have lower qualifications on entry and a social profile skewed towards manual working class. These differences might be expected to militate against success but Helen Bellamy's study, which benchmarked degree-level achievement at Barnsley College against the national profile of degree classifications, showed notable levels of success. (Annex 2 Degree-level achievement in an FE College)

  10.  Such levels of success demonstrate the emerging quality and effectiveness of FE college provision for higher education. As noted above, FE colleges attract non-traditional and disadvantaged entrants to higher education. Many progress through FE and HE courses to achieve beyond their initial expectations as the following case studies reveal.

CASE STUDIES

Solihull College

BA (HONS) FINE ART

  50 per cent of students enrolled at Solihull are over 25 years of age and come from a broad spectrum of society and life experience bringing a wealth of transferable skills to the course which enhances the learning experience for everyone. Many students organise external exhibitions and gain commissions and sales during their final year as part of their professional practice with the majority going on to post-graduate programmes at other institutions to study for a masters degree or teacher qualification. A preponderance of Solihull graduates is now engaged in professional posts in a variety of creative fields.

Janet—3rd year

  Having successfully brought up a family of four children, working as a bus driver and being a trade union representatives, Janet studied for an Access Course prior to commencing her degree course at Solihull. Janet travels daily to college via public transport from the other side of Birmingham. Janet has found much inspiration through visiting London and provincial art galleries to see the work of contemporary artists who are influencing her own studio practice. Janet has been a student representative for three years and a student member of the College Board of Governors for two years. Janet intends to study for a Masters degree next year and to expand her early successes with gallery exhibitions.

Sparsholt College, Hampshire

  Prize Winning HE student at Sparsholt College.

Background

    —  Unemployed window cleaner from Darlington

    —  Very keen salmon angler

    —  At age 43 took a one-year FE course (Edexel First Diploma) at Sparsholt College in 1994-95

    —  In 1995 embarked upon an HND/BSc course in Aquaculture and Fishery Studies

Achievement

    —  Obtained an Upper 2nd class Hons degree in June 1999

    —  Obtained a post with a Fisheries Survey team within the Environment Agency in Northumberland.

Reading College

  After several years out of education and employment, mature student Lucy Heeley embarked on her ACCESS to Higher Education course at Reading College whilst leaving her son William at the College's Tawny nursery. This facilitated her entry to Reading University where she is now studying for a degree in Sociology.

  Three part-time students gained 1st class degrees in BSc (Hons) Engineering (Electronics and Communications). Simon, John and Andrew graduated in 1999, having juggled their studies with full-time employment.

  11.  The quality of a college offer is additionally defined by the standards set by the QAA and external awarding bodies. Their reports, as the following sample shows, pay tribute to the high quality achieved on many HE courses within the FE sector.

Blackpool and The Fylde College

  QAA Subject Review Report January 1999

  School of Art and Design BA (Hons) Design

  The Quality of Education.

    "In the Graphic Design programme, visiting practitioners assist teaching staff in the development, delivery and assessment of project work. Students particularly welcome this input, which has led to benefits both in work placement effectiveness and in the award of many prestigious national competition prizes and awards."

    "There is a positive ethos of professionalism and commitment among staff who strive to keep abreast of relevant advances both technical and in teaching."

    "Teaching sessions are successful in providing the necessary knowledge and understanding required for the specialist vocational subjects contained within the HND and BA courses and the quality of teaching for subject specific skills is high." (Annex 3 Blackpool and The Fylde College extract from QAA Subject Review Report)

  12.  Where college provision does not meet the standards set by external bodies there is evidence of the effectiveness of college systems to ensure the necessary improvements take place as noted in the following QAA report.

    "The maintenance and enhancement of quality is considerably influenced by Edexcel external verifiers and by external examiners, whose comments are dealt with in a formal procedure so that effective action can be taken."

    Extract from QAA Review of Art and Design provision at Reading College.

How is teaching quality measured and assured?

  13.  Practitioners accept the following as characteristics of a college's quality assurance system: academic review of programme content, effective mechanisms for monitoring learning delivery and assessment, encouragement of variety in styles of learning delivery; feedback and review of student progress, monitoring of retention and achievement, tutorial, advice and guidance, and other systems for student support.

  14.  In relation to measuring and assuring the quality of provision, there are considerable differences in the systems currently operated by FEFC in the FE sector and QAA in the HE sector. Not only do those different approaches present colleges with practical difficulties in seeking to satisfy two different regimes, they throw up a number of questions about the applicability of the QAA approach to the very different models of HE delivery which some FE sector colleges adopt to meet the needs of their own students—for example, in relation to access to library facilities. These issues are becoming more urgent with the expansion of HE in colleges. In the view of the Association, a continuing dialogue is needed with QAA and others on the evolution of the current quality assessment system in relation to FE sector provision.

  15.  In contrast to Universities, FE colleges deliver qualifications validated by a multitude of awarding bodies not excluding Universities. The Association believes the challenge of meeting the quality demands of a range of awarding bodies has resulted in FE colleges developing robust and effective quality assurance systems. These review all those elements that affect a student's experience of college and encompass the characteristics detailed in paragraph 16. The processes common to most systems are internal course validation, course review, teacher observation and appraisal, student feedback, tutorials and internal and external verification. They comprise the following:

    Internal course validation—the process where a judgement is reached by a group, including external peers where appropriate, as to whether a programme of study designed to lead to an academic award of a specified level meets the nationally accepted requirements for that award and the internal quality criteria. (Annex 4 Croydon College Academic Standards—Policy and Procedures)

    Programme Review—a process where the programme team regularly critically appraises the progress of a course of study in the light of available evidence such as retention and achievement of students, student feedback, examiners' reports, and develops as action plan to bring about the necessary change.

    Classroom observation and appraisal—a system of classroom observation against agreed criteria by line managers that can feed into staff appraisal. Appraisal ensures that any identified training or staff development needs are recorded and implemented.

    Many colleges have also developed systems of peer observation, which have proved beneficial in raising standards of classroom delivery.

    Student feedback—there are various means of eliciting student responses relating to the quality of their experience—subject and course evaluation, questionnaires on college provision, meetings of student representatives—and these feed into programme reviews and reviews of the whole college.

    Tutorials—Students are allocated personal tutors who support them throughout their time at college and assume responsibility for their academic progress. Tutors also act as a referral point for other support services offered by a college such as counselling and advice. Colleges have clear tutorial policies and well-developed systems of tutorial support that benefit both FE and HE students. The Tutorial File produced by Reading College shows the ways in which students are supported by tutors through induction, progress reviews, guidance and self-assessment. (Annex 5 Reading College HE Tutorial File)

    Internal verification—Quality in relation to course objectives and assessment is measured through systems of internal and external verification. Again, in response to meeting the verification requirements of a range of validating bodies, colleges have developed college wide internal verification systems to ensure consistent and fair student assessment. All assessors on a programme are involved in this process which covers assessment design, assessment of students' work and record keeping.

    External verification: is the means through which awarding bodies ensure the fairness and consistency of assessment as this extract from a report shows. ". . . I am enormously impressed with the college's historians, but if I have to draw attention to any particularly outstanding practice, there is one which seems to be to merit special attention . . . the style of the cover sheet which is used as the basic structure within which tutors comment on students' work . . . what impresses me even more is the nature and quantity of additional written comment which tutors add to every page." (Final report of External Assessor for History, Norwich City College) In addition external verifiers report on the quality of resources, including human resources, and course procedures. The extracts from Reading College's Quality Manual and report to Inspectors provided in Annex 6 show the rigour of the process.

  16.  Evidence provided by City College Manchester for the QAA demonstrates a comprehensive range of quality assurance tools typical of FE Colleges delivering HE where "best practice" to meet awarding body and FEFC quality requirements is dovetailed with the requirements of the Higher Education Quality Assurance Process. In addition to the processes outlined above quality review meetings are held at all levels—subject, course, department, college—to ensure a consistent approach to quality. (Annex 7 City College Manchester evidence for the QAA)

The extent to which teaching quality varies between different disciplines and institutions

  17.  The Association is mindful of the tensions inherent in increasing provision whilst maintaining quality but has no evidence that teaching quality varies significantly between different disciplines. The quality procedures cited above have been essential in the colleges' endeavours to maintain and improve quality whilst managing expansion of provision.

  18.  It is arguable that of all the quality procedures employed by colleges to maintain and improve teaching quality on higher education courses, classroom observation is most effective. Many FE colleges operate an "open classroom" policy where, in addition to formal observations, peer observations, shared teaching and team teaching provide a focus for sharing good practice and a continuing debate on improving the quality of classroom practice. Reports on a pilot peer observation system are appended. These show a strong commitment to the process by staff and note the opportunities it offers for staff to develop their skills as teachers and facilitators (Annex 8 Observation of Teaching and Learning Reading College). Where formal classroom observation identifies staff development needs this is picked up through appraisal which then generates staff training and development plans. Croydon College's procedures for observation and Croydon and Reading Colleges' procedures for appraisal are appended as samples that are typical of FE colleges throughout England and Wales (Annex 9 Croydon College Observation of Teaching and Learning, Annex 10 Croydon College Staff Handbook, Annex 11 Reading College Appraisal Scheme)

  19.  The Association's view is that well-qualified and experienced staff are key to the maintenance of teaching quality. It is desirable that staff are teacher-trained to ensure their delivery is based upon an underpinning knowledge and experience of pedagogic issues. A high proportion of Further Education staff possesses a recognised teaching or training qualification. In 1995-96 74 per cent of teaching staff in Further Education colleges possessed a recognised teaching or training qualification. In 1996-97 this figures rose to 76 per cent (FEFC data set).

  20.  The Association supports the extensive use of student responses in college quality systems to monitor the quality of student experience and improve provision. Questionnaires are the main tool in gaining feedback about the college as a whole (Annex 12 Croydon College analysis of Student Exit interviews) These are supplemented by course specific procedures such as review meetings and evaluations. Students participate responsibly as long as the purpose is clear and they perceive change happening. Student concerns can range from personal comfort, "poor temperature regulation, (room) 311 like ice, (rooms) 310 & 208 like saunas", through learning support, "more help with communications skills", to assessment, "one assignment was handed out a week before it was due in and there was not enough time to research adequately or give the assignment due regard." Most colleges have procedures that feed back to students the nature of their comments and the action that has been taken. Typical methods are a student review meeting and regular bulletins (Annex 13 Cornwall College Action Minutes, City College Manchester student bulletin).

  21.  As FE colleges have extended their provision and drawn in those who have not previously participated in further and higher education, they have developed approaches to learning delivery and learning support that can overcome barriers to learning. The Tomlinson Report recognised that all that was proposed in relation to inclusive learning was already present somewhere in the sector. Professor Tomlinson stated that, "the task is to extend widely the high quality which already exists in pockets; what is locked in the minds and actions of the few must become available to the many." The Association, in response to the Tomlinson Report, led a consortium of 96 colleges in the production and dissemination of a pack of resources to extend and develop practice in inclusive learning. The resources and the good practice the resources encourage extend to the full range of work, FE and HE, within the sector and contribute to the success of non-traditional HE students.

  22.  Learning support underpins FE and HE provision and is a further contribution to student success. It is offered in a variety of modes to meet the needs of part-time students and parents. Reading College provides an example of using three models of study skills support for higher education students dependent upon needs: 1-1 tuition for students with specific learning difficulties who have claimed the Disabled Student Allowance, drop-in workshops for any students needing support or guidance with assignments, research skills or applied maths and whole class sessions on generic topics eg note-taking, report writing.

  23.  The FE sector is conscious of the requirement to assure the quality of its HE provision through research and development. Although the sector is not directly funded for research, many colleges allocate a proportion of their budget to fund research and development related to the HE provision. Croydon College, for example, has a detailed development plan for HE work and a Research and Scholarship Committee one of whose aims is to contribute to the development of a research culture within the college. (Annex 14 Croydon College Higher Education Initiatives, Research and Scholarship Committee)

Institutional arrangements and their contribution to the teaching and learning experience

  24.  The Association recognises the many strengths of the FE sector as a provider of mainly vocationally related higher education. The sector has a track record of responding to local employment needs and developing "niche markets" and tailor-made provision. Examples include Cornwall College, which has been central to a programme of training that enables engineers in small and medium-sized companies to upgrade their formal qualifications. Candidates completed work-based assignments geared to benefit their companies as part of the course (Annex 15 Cornwall College National Training Awards 1995). Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Leisure, the UK's only specialist college for the hospitality industries, has developed close working relationships with both individual employers and representative groups. Employers have consistently praised the College's programmes and many specifically request permission to visit the College and interview and recruit students for graduate training programmes.

  25.  Where colleges maintain strong links with employers they are able to ensure their students are kept abreast of current industry requirements and there can be good progression to employment. Employers recognise the quality and relevance of courses offered with FE and demonstrate this recognition by providing sponsorship and work placements for students. City College Manchester, for example, has an Art and Design Advisory Board to advise teams about current trends and training requirements. Members of the Board additionally contribute by offering guest lectures, setting external briefs and offering work placements (Annex 16 City College Manchester Art and Design Advisory Board). Blackpool and The Fylde College has specifically built in an "Employer Consultancy Module" to the final year of its BA Hospitality Management to provide students with an opportunity to address issues of genuine industrial concern. The College receives positive feedback from employers for this initiative and from work placements as this extract demonstrates. "We were very impressed by the quality of the illustrations produced on our behalf and the professionalism of the students. So impressed that we are in the process of organising further work with Blackpool and The Fylde College" (Annex 17 Blackpool and The Fylde College, BA Hospitality Management: Employer Consultancy Module)

  26.  The responsiveness of the FE sector can result in the development of courses to meet market need. Northbrook College, for example, in response to demand, has developed a BA (Hons) Menswear Design, and a BA (Hons) Fine Art: Painting which draws heavily on the Victorian syllabus and a return to formal practices. "As such it ran completely counter to the conceptually based art courses offered in the University sector. Again this is an example of breaking new ground and arguably, such innovation can take place in the Further Education environment where flexibility and response is high on the agenda." (Principal, Northbrook College)

How does the way in which funding is allocated to higher education affect the nature of teaching and learning?

  27.  In the view of the Association the primary purpose of any funding system must be to support institutions in the delivery of effective teaching and learning. To achieve this it must deliver to learning providers resources which broadly match the costs involved in delivering learning programmes. The funding framework must accordingly be sufficiently sensitive to recognise differences in delivery costs for different types of provision, while leaving providers sufficient flexibility to manage delivery within an overall funding envelope. It must also be transparent and fair between providers delivering similar resource levels for similar types of work, varying only in accordance with explicitly agreed criteria. Only in this way can the system ensure equity of treatment between learners in different institutions. The Association recognises that most governments will at different times wish to provide a steer to the operation of the system, in order to focus institutions on those aspects of provision which are seen to be of particular importance. The inclusion of elements in the funding system designed to provide a policy steer is not in itself unreasonable, but in the view of the Association such elements should operate at the margin, and not be so intrusive as to distort behaviour inappropriately. Nor should the funding body allow the system to become so complex as to send unintended signals to providers.

  28.  Judged against these general criteria, the funding system now operated by HEFCE stands up well. It has succeeded in sustaining institutions in the delivery of high quality learning opportunities that have met the needs of students. However there are a number of specific points which should be made from the perspective of the further education colleges providing higher education.

  29.  First, there have been historic differences between funding levels for similar provision in FE colleges and universities—with the former typically significantly below the latter. In moving towards a more consistent funding regime a few years ago, HEFCE at one point proposed to embed those differences into a new funding regime. Those differences were paralleled by differences in funding levels between HEFCE and FEFC(E), again with the latter providing lower levels of funding for similar work. When Government agreed to implement the recommendation of the Dearing Committee to transfer responsibility for funding all HNC and HND work to HEFCE, that Council agreed to adopt common funding levels for all types of work, regardless of the providing institution. The Association very much welcomed that policy, but the consequence remains that most FE colleges providing HE work have a legacy of under-resourcing to deal with which will take some years to correct. This inevitably has had an effect on the level of resources colleges can provide in areas such as library provision, which is reflected in quality assessments by QAA.

  30.  Second, the funding policies which operated in both the further and the higher education sectors for much of the 1990s were based on a drive to reduce unit costs and secure greater efficiency in delivery. While successful in their own terms, such policies have had an inevitable effect on the resources which colleges have been able to deploy to support students. While colleges have done much to improve internal quality assurance systems, and have adopted a variety of measures to ensure that the learning experience did not suffer, the effects of such funding pressures have inevitably been felt in areas such as staff pay which have left colleges with similar problems to universities in recruitment and retention of able and effective staff.

  31.  Third, a significant proportion of the HE provision delivered through colleges has been operated under franchising arrangements with universities. Such arrangements have until recently not been subject to any external regulation, and have shown wide variations in the extent to which responsibility has been shared between the partners, and the financial arrangements which have underpinned those arrangements. HEFCE has now introduced a Code of Conduct to govern such relationships, which the Association has strongly welcomed. It remains the case however that there are wide variations in the nature of the financial agreement between the partners—as recent inquiries by the Association have shown—and the Association believes that in some instances the arrangements may not fairly reflect the agreed division of responsibilities. It believes there may be room for the dissemination of good practice in this area, to inform the future evolution of such arrangements, and to ensure that high quality can be maintained.

  32.  Fourth, the Association has welcomed the moves made by HEFCE in the funding system to encourage widening participation, and to recognise the additional support that students from more disadvantages backgrounds need in order to take full advantage of the learning opportunities available. Such measures will certainly help to ensure the quality of provision for such individuals.

  33.  In addition, it is noticeable that unlike the FEFC funding system, that operated by HEFCE has no explicit drivers linked to quality. The Association believes that the inclusion of a modest achievement element in the funding formula can help sharpen institutional perceptions of the importance of helping students to attain their intended qualification. It is also a feature of the HEFCE funding system that a rather higher proportion of funding is distributed in the form of special grants, many of which FE colleges have not been able to access. While recognising—as noted above—the need to an element of earmarked funding, the Association believes it desirable to limit the amount of top-slicing of funds as far as possible, to maximise the funding distributed on the basis of clear and transparent formulae, and to allow institutions to determine how resources should be used to meet learner needs most effectively.

How do different modes of attendance affect the quality of the teaching and learning experience?

  34.  The Association perceives the availability of different modes of attendance as a strength of the FE sector and a contributory factor to widening participation. There is no apparent qualitative difference in the teaching and learning of courses offering different modes of attendance. The FE sector has responded flexibly to changes in the FE and HE market, and consequently in the demands of students, and provides courses in various modes—day, evening, slow track and fast track—and with varying start dates. A KPMG study into the costs of HNC provision in FE colleges identified, among others, the following changes in the market to which colleges had responded:

    —  A growing reluctance by some employers to release employees to attend day-release courses and/or to pay fees for these courses.

    —  Students who are self-employed or run their own businesses wish to obtain a HNC in a short period of time.

    —  Some students who are unemployed wish to take an HNC qualification in one year rather than two. If they gain employment during the duration of the course they can often switch to the "slow track" mode of attendance.

    —  Prospective HNC students wish to join the course at various times during the academic year as opposed to the start of the year.

  If variations in quality between different modes of attendance do occur, the quality assurance procedures already detailed in this memorandum are the means of identifying and addressing such variations.

  35.  The Association has drawn attention earlier in this paper to the ways in which the FE sector responds to the needs of employers. Such responsiveness has generated successful examples of flexible and non-traditional learning in many fields. In response to demand Croydon College has introduced, or example, a two-year part-time modular course which delivers both a Diploma in Human Resource Management/Human Resource Development as well as graduate membership for the Institute of Personnel and Development. It is also working closely with Lambeth Council and the Home Office to provide bespoke training and NVQ/academic qualifications in-house.

  36.  Employers have welcomed and contributed to courses designed specifically for their employees and there are innovative examples of work-based provision. The Arts Institution at Bournemouth has specific courses running at the institute put on for the sole use of a company. Examples include retraining members of the Graphical, Paper and Media Union to keep them updated on recent advances in printing. The Institute, in common with most FE colleges, has a large portfolio of part-time FE and HE courses. Most courses are in the evenings or at weekends, which enables students who have work and family commitments to study. A lifelong learning manager works evenings and weekends to support such provision alongside a dedicated learning support team. Reading College provides an interesting example of flexible learning. Their HNC/HND Engineering is offered flexibly so that students who would not normally be able to access education through traditional attendance are able to study on the programme using study packs, evening and weekend drop-in tutorials and distance learning materials. Successful graduates have included a student from the RAF based in Cyprus and a student working on North Sea oil rigs.

The effect of changing patterns of student support and student income on the quality of learning

  37.  In the view of the Association, the student support system which has existed for full-time students since the early 1960s has provided an important underpinning to the expansion of higher education over several decades. It continues to ensure that the UK system remains one of the most cost-effective in the world, with shorter course lengths and higher success rates than most other industrial competitor nations, and has helped to ensure that the proportion of the workforce with qualifications at degree-level compares favourably with other advanced economies. There is as yet little evidence to suggest that the shift away from a wholly grant-based approach towards one with a large loan element has had any significant impact on either student willingness to pursue higher education, or on drop-out and success rates. As the recent HEFCE data on performance indicators make clear however, there are noticeable differences between different student groups in terms of retention and achievement.

  38.  The Association believes that the Government was right in principle to follow the recommendation of the Dearing Committee in introducing a student contribution to the tuition costs of higher education. Evidence of the benefits accruing to individuals in terms of lifetime earnings from the possession of a degree is overwhelming, and in the view of the Association, it is reasonable for society to look to those individuals for a contribution to the costs of acquiring the qualifications which confer those benefits. In addition, not only has the levying of a tuition fee been normal practice in other sectors of post-compulsory education, it remained a feature of the mandatory awards system itself for some students until the 1970s.

  39.  Nor does the Association believe it to be necessary for the state automatically to meet the maintenance costs of all adult learners while studying. Outside the mandatory awards system it has long been the case that most learners following courses at further education level whether on a full or part-time basis, and most students following higher education courses part-time, receive levels of support far less than those available to full-time degree, HND and similar courses. That remains the case, despite the recent improvements in the levels of support available. As an illustration, the current cost of loans and grants to approximately 1.7 m HE students amounts to some £2 billion per annum: in contrast, the total amount of support available to 3.8m students in FE runs at less that £150m per annum (including the current EMA pilots, but excluding tuition fee remission). Public support for those seeking to retrain or upgrade their skills—in the form of Career Development Loans or similar schemes—is likewise very limited.

  40.  In the view of the Association, the failure to provide an adequate system of student support for those at intermediate levels of study is at least an important contributory factor to the poor UK record at this level (as dramatically illustrated by the Skills Audit conducted by the last Government). Accordingly it supports the principle of loans for student support, repayable on an income-contingent basis from subsequent earnings. It believes such an approach to be more transparent than alternatives such as a graduate income tax. It believes however that it is right for some element of grant support to be retained alongside the loan scheme for those learners who face greatest hardship, and to provide incentives to groups who are least likely to participate in higher education as a result of debt-aversion, family pressures, social and cultural traditions, lack of appreciation of the economic benefits, and other factors.

  41.  The Association recognises nevertheless the concern at levels of student poverty among students following higher education courses full-time. It would note that after an extended decline in the real level of student support available through the mandatory award system through the 1970s and 1980s, the introduction of loan support has led to some modest improvement in the resources available. Alongside this, there has been an increasing tendency for even full-time students to undertake paid employment during term-time. In addition, there has been a rising level of student indebtedness. In part this would appear to be attributable to rising expectations on the part of students, paralleling the increasing affluence of society as a whole. In part too it may represent an increasing willingness on the part of students to carry a share of the costs of studying, in the expectation that borrowings will be repaid from subsequent earnings. The rise in the numbers learning while earning through various forms of part-time study would tend to reinforce this view, as well as emphasising the importance of making higher education delivery more flexible.

  42.  As far as the Association is aware, there is little evidence to suggest that these changes have had any significant impact on the quality of learning or on standards of attainment. There are indications however that students are becoming more critical consumers, less willing to accept unsatisfactory teaching or inadequate facilities for learning. The introduction of a real student contribution to tuition costs (as opposed to the notional contribution that existed previously) can be expected to reinforce this trend. The Association believes this to be a healthy trend, which will tend to make institutions more responsive to learner needs. It believes institutions in the FE sector offering HE courses, with their long tradition of dealing with older learners, are well-placed to respond to these developments, through the kind of mechanisms described above.

How accountable are universities for the quality of the student learning experience?

  43.  The Association cannot comment on the university sector but accepts that FE colleges should be fully accountable. Principals and colleges are accountable through their corporation's Governing bodies whose remit will include determining the educational character and mission of the institution and overseeing its activities. The Governing bodies are additionally responsible for the effective and efficient use of resources, the solvency of the institution and for safeguarding their assets. Colleges recognise their accountability to their students, to employers and to the communities they serve and the publication of performance indicators is a major way in which colleges demonstrate this.

  44.  Colleges monitor customer perceptions through inclusion of student responses and feedback in programme and College review systems and in addition they receive feedback from staff and from employers. Reading College has provided detailed documentation of monitoring procedures and a further example from Solihull College shows the way in which students' responses are used to monitor provision (Annex 18 Reading College, Annex 19 Solihull College, First Impressions, Student satisfaction survey)

  45.  FE colleges have developed further tools including Student Charters with feedback procedures as a measure of accountability. The majority of colleges will have college complaints systems. Croydon College's procedure is widely promoted and includes referral to the College Ombudsperson. The College points out however that most complaints are resolved informally. "In the current year there have been only six instances of complaint to the Principal or referral to the Ombudsperson, all of which have now been resolved." Reading College encourages complaints to be initially addressed through dialogue with the appropriate team but has a formal procedure for when problems cannot be resolved in this manner (Annex 20 Reading College Complaints Policy)

To what extent are universities involved with their local communities?

  46.  The Association, responding on behalf of the FE sector, recognises that FE colleges, unlike many Universities, are largely local institutions, although many also have a regional and national role. There are many examples in this memorandum of the ways in which colleges are responsive and effective in meeting local employer needs. Colleges are also pro-active in meeting community needs. Reading College for example, offers Community Arts and Crafts programmes designed to meet the demand, locally, of mature students wishing to develop a professional practice as artists working in the community (Annex 21 Reading College HNC/HND Design Crafts [Community Arts])

  47.  There are many ways in which colleges interact with their local communities to reach potential students and establish training and learning needs but also to provide a service. Examples can include advice and open days, taster days, outreach centres, links with local libraries and making accommodation and facilities available to local groups. Colleges maintain strong links with local schools and some, such as City College Manchester, have Compact Partnerships with selected local schools. These aim to build collaborative links and partnerships and work with specific groups of students to encourage those who may not have considered higher education to do so.

  48.  Reference has already been made to the flexibility of course offer enabling part-time, evening and weekend study. It is clearly the case that many students choose to study HE at FE colleges as a local FE college can allow easier access and enable students to meet family, domestic and working commitments whilst studying.

  49.  The importance of locality in determining a student's decision to progress to HE within an FE college has been identified by South East Essex College as part of an investigation into their HNC/HND offer study. A case study is provided of an eighteen year old Engineering student which indicates that he is choosing to progress to Higher Education in an FE college both for convenience and because, from his experience on his GNVQ Advanced Engineering, he considers that the education he will receive from lecturers will be of a high standard (Annex 22, South East Essex College Case Study)

  50.  The Association recognises that an essential aspect of the relationship between a college and its local community is that it can offer progression through FE to HE in the one institution for local students. As the case studies included in paragraph 14 demonstrate, FE Colleges can therefore widen participation in higher education by encouraging progression for students for whom HE would not be normal expectation.

CONCLUSION

Strengths of the FE Sector

  51.  The FE sector is well placed to contribute to the significant expansion of higher education encompassed in the Prime Minister's aim that in the next ten years 50 per cent of those under 30 will have had higher education experience.

  52.  Widening participating has been at the heart of the FE college mission and this extends to the courses provided for the 11 per cent of HE students studying in FE colleges. FE draws in many groups that have not previously participated in further and higher education and therefore widens participation in higher education by encouraging progression for students for who HE would not be a normal expectation.

  53.  The strengths of higher education within FE colleges include responsiveness to local employment needs and flexibility in modes of delivery to meet the requirements of the student population. Although a number of colleges have a regional and national role, FE colleges are largely local institutions, provide mainly vocationally related higher education and respond effectively to meet local employer and community needs.

  54.  Where colleges maintain strong links with employers they ensure their students are kept abreast of current industry requirements and there can be good progression to employment.

  55.  Colleges recognise their accountability to their students, to employers and to the communities they serve and there are effective procedures that demonstrate and monitor accountability.

  56.  The challenge of meeting the quality demands of a range of awarding bodies has resulted in FE colleges developing robust and effective quality assurance systems.

Issues of concern

  57.  There are considerable differences in the systems currently operated by FEFC in the FE sector and QAA in the HE sector. These present colleges with practical difficulties in seeking to satisfy two different regimes and throw up a number of questions about the applicability of the QAA approach to the very different models of HE delivery which some FE colleges adopt to meet the needs of their students.

  58.  There have been historic differences between funding levels for similar provision in FE colleges and universities—with the former typically significantly below the latter. Despite the current common funding levels for all types of work, regardless of the providing institution, most FE colleges providing HE work have a legacy of under-resourcing which will take some years to correct. This has affected the level of resources colleges can provide in areas such as library provision, which is reflected in quality assessments by QAA.

  59.  The effects of the funding policies in the 1990s (which were based on a drive to reduce unit costs and secure greater efficiency in delivery) have been felt in areas such as staff pay which have left colleges with similar problems to universities in recruitment and retention of able and effective staff.

  60.  The Association has strongly welcomed HEFCE's Code of Conduct to govern HE provision delivered through colleges under franchising arrangements with universities but notes the wide variations in the nature of the financial agreement between the partners.

  61.  The Association believes that the inclusion of a modest achievement element in the funding formula can help sharpen institutional perceptions of the importance of helping students to attain their intended qualification.

  62.  The Association believes it desirable to limit the amount of top-slicing of funds to maximise the funding distributed on the basis of clear and transparent formulae, and to allow institutions to determine how resources should be used to meet learner needs most effectively.

  63.  The Association believes that the Government was right in principle in introducing a student contribution to the tuition costs of higher education. It notes that most learners following courses at further education level whether on a full or part-time basis, and most students following higher education courses part-time, receive levels of support far less than those available to full-time degree, HND and similar courses.

  64.  In the view of the Association, the failure to provide an adequate system of student support for those at intermediate levels of study contributes to the poor UK record at this level. It supports the principle of loans for student support, repayable on an income-contingent basis from subsequent earnings. It believes that it is right for an element of grant support to be retained alongside the loan scheme for those learners who face greatest hardship, and to provide incentives to groups who are least likely to participate in higher education.

  65.  The Association believes it to be a healthy trend that students, due to the costs of studying, are becoming more critical consumers. This encourages institutions to be more responsive to learner needs. It believes institutions in the FE sector offering HE courses adopt effective measures to ensure sensitivity to student needs.

  66.  The Association recognises further development of higher education will be encouraged by increasing collaboration between further and higher education institutions. In relation to collaboration, Curriculum 2000 will have an impact. The greater breadth of students' studies with the integration of key skills will have implications for the content of University provision. Universities may need to adapt their provision to take into account both the range of knowledge and skills encompassed in Curriculum 2000 and the teaching and learning strategies to which students will be accustomed. In the view of the Association there is also a need to make rapid progress towards determining how the new qualifications will be viewed in relation to university entrance requirements.

Association of Colleges

February 2001


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