11 October 2012
The Association of Colleges survey, which offers an early snapshot of enrolment figures, paints a generally positive picture with an overall increase of one percent in 16 to 18-year-old students.
The data shows that (for 16 to 18-year-olds):
There also appears to be an increase in enrolments for STEM courses among adults, with 35% of colleges reporting an increase and 3% a decline.
Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, Martin Doel, said: “We are particularly pleased to see an increase in engineering and other STEM subjects. Colleges are clearly responding to economic imperatives, both locally and nationally, and to encouragement from Government and their response has been typically rapid.
“Even so, change takes time; we can’t just say ‘let’s have more engineers’ and expect it to happen overnight. As a country we need to generate demand among students for these types of course and this requires corresponding changes in careers advice and guidance in schools from an early age, employer engagement, communications campaigns and national policy.”
However, the survey, which is published today (11 October), shows a complex picture of recruitment across England and key findings include:
*Adult enrolment data based on a smaller response rate of 81 colleges.
Mr Doel added: “Some of our member colleges report a reduction in the number of students enrolling on courses in hair and beauty, the arts and in construction; this may be students responding to messages from Government about where their future employment options are likely to be and, in the case of construction, may reflect the current slump in capital and house building.”
Although the AoC survey offers a generally positive picture of enrolment across England, there are a few areas of concern, most particularly with respect to Level 1 students. For the second year in a row there have been early indications from colleges (20%) that they have seen a reduction in this category.
“We remain concerned about the dip in numbers of students at Level 1 and will be interested to see the final enrolment figures in the spring to see if this is a wider trend than our interim survey indicates,” said Martin Doel. “Where numbers of Level 1 students are falling in colleges, the decline may have been exacerbated by the issues over GCSE results this summer and may also point to a far more serious trend of young people becoming disengaged with education and disappearing from school and college rolls. These students, in particular those who have not done so well at school, represent the most vulnerable group, those most at risk of becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training).
“They may also come from the most disadvantaged areas and - with the break-up of the Connexions service and a lack of independent information, advice and guidance on their post-14 options, the increasing pressure on family budgets, and the loss or decrease in student travel subsidies - there may be little colleges can do to encourage them to continue with their education or training. We worry that there may be longer-term socio-economic consequences, both for the individual student’s life chances and for UK plc, if this trend should continue.”
Among those colleges seeing a reduction in enrolment, the key reasons given include: competition from school sixth forms and other colleges; poor careers advice; the abolition of the EMA; cuts in the student funding level and the failure of potential students to reach A*-C in GCSE maths and English.
Many colleges said that in terms of adult numbers it is too early to comment on trends as recruitment is ongoing, but early indications suggest that there is an increase both in overall numbers and in those electing to follow STEM subjects.
Possible reasons for the overall increase in adult numbers may be a response to high unemployment levels and colleges re-focusing their curriculum towards courses more targeted at employability, enterprise and work-related learning with additional language and numeracy support. Colleges also suggest adults may recognise the need to improve their skills to enhance their CVs and there may be better retention of students from 16-18 in the face of increased higher education fees.
AoC will undertake further research to examine enrolment patterns and student retention in the New Year following the official count (1 November) of autumn 2012’s student numbers based on the Individual Learner Record (ILR), which is then submitted to the Government’s Data Service on 5 December.
The enrolment survey, commissioned annually to collect early data on student numbers and to examine the possible causes for a rise or a dip in the figures, was sent to 341 English AoC member colleges in mid-September. These colleges teach, collectively, half of all 16 to 18-year-olds in full and part-time education.
111 colleges responded giving a survey response rate of 33% of English colleges. Replies were fairly evenly spread across all regions. The respondents include general further education colleges, sixth form colleges and specialist colleges, which include land-based and art and design institutions.