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Surveys and research

AoC conducts a number of in-house surveys on a wide range of issues affecting colleges. We use this research to support our representation work to MPs, Government officials and the media. The research also provides colleges with useful benchmarking data.

AoC also carries out research projects on its own and in partnership with other organisations. We also commission external research.

International Survey Report 2023

The International Survey Report, published by Association of Colleges (AoC), puts colleges’ international work under the microscope to identify emerging trends, challenges and opportunities impacting the sector. It had 40 responses from across the UK and covers the 2022/23 academic year.

Despite ever-growing interest in the UK’s international skills offer, there continues to be little information available about its scale and value compared to data for HE education export. This survey seeks to fill that gap.

The survey found that colleges are conducting a range of activities including overseas campus operations, delivery of training programmes for international partners, student mobility programmes, student recruitment on long- and short-term programmes, international projects and online provision.

In 2022/23, the average college international income (excluding overseas campus operations) was £800,000, while it was £614,000 in 2021/22.*

Colleges offer brilliant value for money to international students, with the HE fees charged by colleges at least half the international fees charged by many UK universities. It also found that international students have a big impact on their local communities, with a cohort of 30 full-time international students spending an estimated £321,840 per year in the local economy (based on a 36-week course).

Around 79% of colleges welcomed students from Ukraine, and colleges remain places of sanctuary for many refugees and asylum seekers.

The majority of colleges (89%) said that they worked internationally to provide student mobility opportunities for students, for example through the legacy Erasmus+ and Turing Scheme. However, 71% of colleges also stated that engagement with EU partners has decreased and 61% highlighted a decrease in the number of EU students studying in their college.

Around 63% of colleges stated that staffing capacity has had a negative impact on international work. The survey found a significant fall in the number of colleges with at least one member of staff dedicated to international work with only 21% reporting having a member of staff solely responsible for international engagement, compared to 72% reported in 2021/22.

The survey also found that colleges continue to face barriers to international student recruitment: almost most half (45%) cited student sponsor licence regulations as a challenge to recruiting internationally - a longstanding issue reported by the college sector - and 58% said accommodation was a key challenge.

*Survey data varies year on year depending on which colleges respond and the level of international work they undertake.

Local skills improvement plans: a review of their impact and opportunities for the future

Based on interviews with senior college leaders and employer representative bodies across the country, and input from across the further education (FE) sector, mayoral combined authorities (MCAs) and local authorities (LAs) and business groups, this report makes several recommendations on how LSIPs need to change for the future, grouped into four key areas.

  • The first is the focus on building genuinely place-based partnerships, ensuring that LSIPs act as a partnership between all the key stakeholders, and that they cohere with other local or regional planning processes, rather than adding layers of complexity to an already complex system.
  • The second is ensuring effective, strategic employer relationships which are a ‘two-way street’, ensuring that the focus reflects the broad range of employers within a place, is on the long-term priorities rather than simply current vacancies, and involves reflecting on how employers will have to change too.
  • The third is the funding context, recognising the impact of both the level of funding going into the system and the funding approach, as either enabling or undermining ability to deliver on the plan.
  • The fourth is ensuring a clear and coherent approach to accountability, so that everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities in developing and delivering on LSIPs.

Strengthening governance arrangements in the English post-16 skills system

This report has been commissioned by the Association of Colleges and written by Lesley Giles, Director of Work Advance, a research and analysis organisation, and former Deputy Director at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

Building on AoC’s work, Commission for the College of the Future in 2020, Opportunity England in 2023, and 100% Opportunity: the case for a tertiary education system in 2024, the independent report is based on robust evidence, guided by interviews from right across the further education sector and beyond, and draws on international examples of successful skills systems.

The report argues that a new, more effective governance of the system, bringing together the myriad of agencies operating in FE and skills, would support coherence and clarity and ensure there is quality and accessible education and skills available to 100% of the population.

It suggests that the skills body should be a social partnership providing strategic oversight and evidence-based advice to UK government, working with partners. More specifically, this means the body taking the lead in several strategic functions whilst strongly influencing operational functions in the system.

Investigating the impact of the apprenticeship levy on training outcomes - January 2024

A report that AoC commissioned from London Economics on recent trends in apprenticeships. Key findings include:

  • apprenticeship starts fell by 33% (160k) overall from 2014/15 to 2022/23
  • the biggest loss was for younger ages, ‘under 19’ and ‘19-24’ reduced by 100k starts between 2017 and 2022
  • there was significant decline in the number of apprentices from deprived areas. Proportion from most deprived areas fell from 26% to 20%, whilst from least deprived areas starts rose from 14% to 18
  • large decline in intermediate (Level 2) starts and rapid rise in higher apprenticeship starts
  • North-East and Yorkshire and the Humber regions suffered greatest relative fall in starts, whilst relative decline in London and the South-East was much lower
  • retail apprenticeships have been particularly affected, whilst other subject areas (e.g. business and law, health and social care) saw substantial decline in Level 2 but increased Level 4+ starts
  • Starts for SMEs equalled 54% of all starts in 2014/15, but only 41% in 2020/21 (with the number of starts from SME employers halving in absolute terms

Despite the high level of overall investment in post-16 education, employers in England spend less on training than their OECD counterparts, skills shortages are growing and millions of adults risk being left behind as more jobs require stronger digital skills

Forecasting the cost of the English HE funding system - November 2023

AoC commissioned London Economics to create a model to forecast the costs to government of four scenarios for higher education in 2030-31. The model takes account of forecast changes in population and participation based on current behaviour.

The four scenarios are a continuation of current trends, no growth in entry numbers, higher growth and a shift towards Level 4 and 5 provision. The report demonstrates that the costs of government will growth significantly over the coming demand.

In the baseline scenario (in which growth continues on the trend of the past three years), the number of first-year English domiciled undergraduate students (studying anywhere in the UK) is predicted to increase from approximately 522,000 in 2023-24 to 683,000 in 2030-31 (a 31% increase). This would see the total loan outlay in 2030-31 forecast to be roughly £25.63bn, including £12.14bn in maintenance loans and £13.50bn in tuition fee loans issued to students in that year – and with the total estimated ‘net’ (i.e. RAB-adjusted) cost of the English undergraduate HE funding system in 2030-31 standing at approximately £3.14bn.

The analysis also projects outlay and costs up to 2030-31 under three other scenarios, or no growth, higher growth, and a shift to growing Level 4 and 5 standalone qualifications in place of degrees.

AoC Enrolment Survey 2023

AoC Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey 2022

Global engagement in the UK college sector - academic year 2021/22

AoC Student Survey on Additional Hours

AoC FE Provider Strategy and Mandate

AoC College Workforce Survey: Summary of Findings 2020/21 (published November 2022)

AoC Enrolment Survey Autumn 2022

AoC report on the additional 40 hours for 16–18-year-olds

How to fix disadvantage funding - July 2022

Further Education Workforce Shortages in Construction, Planning, and the Built Environment, Report Spring 2022

AoC English and Maths Survey, Report March 2022

College Middle Leadership Survey 2021 - Support, Training and Development, Report March 2022

Survey of safeguarding staff in post-16 providers in England: March 2021 - Report March 2022

AoC College Staff Recruitment Survey December 2021

AoC College Student Attendance Rates 2021 survey - Jan 2022 report

The Current Status of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Further Education Sector in England, Report 2021

AoC College Workforce Survey - 2019/20 academic year, published 2021

AoC Skills Survey 2021

AoC Enrolments Survey Autumn 2021

AoC Catch-up Funding and Remote Education Survey Autumn 2021

AoC Survey: Counting the cost of assessment 2020/21

AoC Spring 2021 Survey: Catch-up funding and remote education

AoC Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey 2020

  • Further information on the report, the Mental Health and Wellbeing Charter and AoC lead in this area

AoC International Survey Summer 2020

AoC College Workforce Survey - 2018/19 academic year - published 2020

AoC Survey: Autumn 2020 College Enrolments and Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic

AoC Innovation in Further Education Colleges Survey, Summer 2020

Colleges and Covid-19 Survey Summer 2020

AoC Survey on Careers Education and Information, Advice and Guidance, March 2020

AoC Covid-19 and Colleges Survey Spring 2020

AoC English and Maths Survey 2020

AoC International Survey 2019

AoC College Governance Survey 2019 - Summary of Findings, October 2019

The impact of Erasmus+ in UK FE colleges, An AoC report October 2019

AoC College ESOL Survey, July 2019

AoC College Workforce Survey - 2017/18 academic year - published Summer 2019

AoC Survey on Personal and Social Development and Enrichment in Colleges, report May 2019

AoC English and Maths Survey, December 2018

With accompanying blog which highlights key responses and policy asks:

International Activity in Colleges - 2018 Association of Colleges Survey

AoC College IT and Digital Technology Survey, Summer 2018

"Issues facing colleges" - An Association of Colleges (AoC) survey in partnership with Tes, April 2018

AoC Survey on College Higher Education Spring 2018

AoC College Workforce Survey 2017

AoC high need funding in colleges survey report, May 2018

AoC: Ofsted and college attendance rates survey, February 2018

Apprenticeships and college finance, January 2018

International Activity in Colleges - 2017 Association of Colleges Survey