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College environment good for HE students, report finds

The FE college environment gives students on higher education courses a learning experience that “exceeds expectations”, according to a new report.

The report, by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), analyses reviews of 45 FE colleges providing HE courses in England in 2013/14.

It says a number of FE colleges show “significant” good practice in enhancing the learning experience of students on HE courses, with ten colleges commended for their work.

It praises college governors, leaders and staff for the important role they play; one college is praised for having a separate management structure for HE and for supporting staff involvement in applied research, which it says helps develop a HE ethos among staff and students.

In addition, colleges are praised for their “quality” learning opportunities and strong employer engagement.

A number of colleges also showed good practice in how they planned courses, taught and supported students, and encouraged staff development.

However there are also a number of areas where improvement is needed.

The report shows almost one in three of the colleges reviewed requires some form of improvement, but only 13 percent were judged to be not meeting UK expectations.

Areas identified as requiring improvement include provision of information for students, engagement with students' views and partnerships with employers.

One of the common themes highlighted in the reviews was a failure by colleges to recognise that HE needs distinct management and governance systems, the report says.

QAA chief executive Anthony McClaran said: “College higher education is very diverse. It does a great job at widening participation and increasing the range of courses students can choose to study.

“Still, we have found that a few colleges need to focus more strongly on developing the robust higher education ethos that we rightly expect from all UK providers.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said more than 144,000 students study HE at FE colleges, and the report confirms colleges are providing an “excellent learning experience”.

"Colleges are held in high regard by local employers, their community and they have a strong track record in delivering higher level qualifications,” he said.

“It is time for the next government to recognise this good practice and support colleges by giving them the power to award higher technical and professional certificates in partnership with employers.”

In August 12 FE colleges were among the top 20 providers of HE courses rated by overall student satisfaction in a poll by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

It led to calls for more FE colleges to be granted degree-awarding status.

Related stories:

FE colleges hit back at claims that higher education provision is 'failing' – October 2014

Amp up our higher powers, say colleges - August 2014

FE colleges top higher education student satisfaction poll - August 2014

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