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Diversity of provision in higher education is key, says AoC

06 February 2024

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Responding to the London Economics research on higher education funding and fees, David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said:

“Further education colleges have been offering higher education for more than 90 years, and currently support around 100,000 learners in England, with many paying below the maximum fee of £9,250. Learners tend to be from a wide range of backgrounds and seeking flexible learning locally to support progression into and at work.

“This research puts that in the context of overall low economic growth resulting in underfunding of higher education. The report comes at a time when underfunding is leading to some universities with weak finances and the potential for chaotic results, for example hasty decisions to close courses and campuses, to end partnerships or to develop new provision solely for the purpose of generating income. To tackle this, diversity of provision is key, including strong local partnerships between universities and colleges.

“Economic growth is hindered in England by persistent skills gaps which require growth in the number of students studying higher technical level 4 and 5 courses, both at FE colleges and universities. A good first step in achieving this would be a new strategy from government with incentives for collaboration between colleges and universities to offer clear pathways for learners and employers which meet their needs. That place-based approach to priorities will help grow participation, improve outcomes and help strengthen economic growth, but it will require colleges and universities to partner properly for the long term."