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Association of Colleges

HE in FE


What is the HE in FE Area?

This area of the AoC site provides information about Higher Education delivered in Further Education colleges (FECs) The most recent validated data for 2007/2008 reports that 112,595 students were studying on HEFCE recognised HE programmes, of which 13,445 were on non-HEFCE funded and 99,145 on HEFCE funded programmes at 271 FECs and Sixth Form Colleges. Twenty one FECs each recruited more than 1,000 students on HE courses.

The HE programmes delivered in FE colleges include Higher National Diplomas and Certificates, Higher level professional courses, teaching qualifications, Foundation, Honours and Masters degrees.

14th May 2014: A series of   Think Pieces have been commissioned by AoC to add to the discussion and development of Higher Vocational Education Policy in England


HE in FE Guide

This guide has been developed in response to requests from Colleges for guidance about recent and proposed changes to the higher education (HE) system.

Following The Browne Review, the Government published its HE White Paper in July 2011, Students at the heart of the system, and a technical consultation, a new, fit-for-purpose regulatory framework for the higher education sector. These documents set out proposals for fundamental changes to the financing and regulation of HE, as well as the Government’s broader vision for HE.

These proposals include changes to regulation, funding, public information, external quality assurance, the student experience and widening participation. This guide outlines all of these changes and will be regularly up-dated. For this reason you are advised to read the document on-line rather than print out a paper copy.

  College HE Guide


Why is it important?

HE in FE has expanded significantly over the last ten years. The largest providers, such as Newcastle College and Bradford College receive teaching budgets greater than those allocated to several small universities. Colleges offering smaller volumes of HE provision often meet particular specialist subject need or serve rural areas. In these latter instances they are often the only means by which the local population can access HE.

The emerging HE in FE landscape

Higher Education (HE) in England is experiencing rapid policy and structural change as the Coalition Government attempts to introduce more market characteristics into the delivery of HE. These changes also affect the HE in FE Sector.
In essence, the government believes that the present ‘quasi market’ in HE is not working for several reasons: (a) there is insufficient competition based on price and (b) there is inadequate information for applicants to make informed choices. Further, governments need to intervene in HE markets because (a) private credit markets are unwilling to lend owing to uncertainties about future behaviour (b) HE is a public good and provides wider benefits to society that a purely private market would not take into account and (c) as HE provides significant individual benefit it is important these benefits are shared across society – arguments related to equity.

The following summarises some of the changes, including institutions, followed by the key documents.

  • Tuition Fees and Financial Support for Students from 2012/13:
    •Tuition fees for full and part time HE students up to £9,000, paid back by income contingent loans. Payment threshold - £21,000. Payback – up to 30 years. If universities/colleges wish to charge above £6,000 they must submit an access agreement to OFFA indicating significant outreach activities to improve access and widen participation.
    •Institutionally based Bursaries and other forms of financial support
    •National Scholarship Programme – again, institutionally based
  • Role and scope of HEFCE – to be finally confirmed.
  • Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)
    • New Academic Infrastructure and Code of Practice
    • New Audit Method
    • New IQER – to be finalised
    • Registration of new HE entrants
    • Maintain TDAP and FDAP powers
  • UCAS
    • Admissions Process Review can be found at the UCAS website.
    • Qualifications Information (QI) Review can be found at the UCAS website. Report: End of July
  • Student Loan Company (SLC)
    • Management of the loan book in the first instance
    • New regulations to be devised for 2012/13
  • Public Information (PI)
    • Key Information Set (KIS) to be published in July/August
    • Managed by HEFCE in first year, then HESA
    • Unistats – repository for National Students Survey
  • Office for Fair Access (OFFA)
    • Access agreement assessment
    • Increased/different outreach activities
  • Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)
    • Improve data services with the SFA/Data Service
    • Manage KIS from 2013

Contextual Data to be developed to inform admissions process and possibly improve access.

Widening Participation. The introduction of the NSP, continuing institutional bursaries, continuing maintenance loans/grants and possibly greater outreach detailed in submitted access agreements indicates more stress on fairer access than widening participation.

The BIS website has all the following key documents in one place:

  • Higher Education White Paper – Students at the Heart of the System.
  • Impact Assessment of the proposals in the White Paper.
  • Equality Impact Assessment of the proposals in the White Paper.
  • Economic analysis to support the White Paper.
  • Implementation plan for how the proposals in the White Paper will be taken forward.
  • Consultation document on potential early payment mechanisms for student loans.
  • A summary of the Government’s response to the recommendations made by the Independent Review of Higher Education and Student Finance.

Events in the HE world include:

(a) The Further Education and Training Act, 2007. This piece of legislation is a useful starting point in this overview as it contains a measure which potentially transforms the delivery of Foundation degrees. The Act enables FE colleges to apply for Foundation Degree Awarding Powers (FDAP). The first two colleges to go down this route hope to gain FDAP this calendar year and will begin recruitment to their own courses in 2011

(b) Skills for Growth was produced by the Labour government in November 2009. It takes as its focus the skills deficit, particularly higher technical or intermediate skills. This will be addressed by an expansion in the number of apprenticeships and by giving priority to skills that equip people for work. The new coalition administration appears to support these proposals.

(c) Alongside this is Higher Ambitions, the same government’s HE strategy document. Described as the new framework for Higher Education, its main focus is on universities but there is reference to the importance of FE colleges in delivering the Government’s agenda:

“But not all higher education is delivered in universities. There is a long tradition of delivery of higher education by further education colleges. This will continue, especially in areas dominated by vocational and strategic skills.‟

Again, the new administration appears to share this recognition of the role of HE in FE.

(d) Quality of provision. Students who pursue their HE in FE receive a high-quality education. Only two Colleges out of the 248 offering HEFCE-funded HE have received limited confidence judgments in the IQER reviews published so far: the comparable figure for the 130 Universities is not available. In many cases, IQER assessors have commented on the quality of the employer engagement activity undertaken by Colleges.

Issues in HE in FE

(a) The Browne Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance.

Due to report in early Autumn 2010, all other policy decisions concerning HE are largely dependent on the outcome of this particular Review. It will determine the future pattern of funding for HE and student fees, including policies on loans and grants.

(b) QAA consultations into the quality assurance process.

These are the direct result of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee Report “Students and Universities” (August 2009.)

(c) The HEFCE Review of HE funding. Consultation document number 2010/10.

Major consultation on the current funding methodology. Funding by credit likely to be a way forward. Closing date for comments is 12 July 2010.

(d) The Student Loans Company

Took over responsibility for student grants and awards from Local Authorities in 2009. Currently putting measures in place to avoid a repetition of the events of 2009, when the company was unable to cope with the volume of phone calls and paperwork, and many thousands of students were left without access to finance at the start of the academic year.

Useful Links

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)

Foundation Degree Forward (fdf)

Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS)

Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)

Higher Education Academy (HEA)

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)

UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES)

Universities UK (UUK)

Action on Access

A useful piece of research from the Mixed Economy Group on higher vocational and professional training:

  From Trade to Profession


HE and Community Learning Briefings

For more details on these stories, member Colleges should read the fortnightlyHE and Community Learning briefing. If you belong to a College and do not currently receive theAdults, Apprentices andEmployersbriefing but would like to sign up to do so, please register online at this link. If your College would like to join AoC, please contact our Membership Manager.