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College students get the best deal

Students often get a better deal from higher education at colleges than at universities, according to new research by the Learning and Skills Development Agency.

The research found that FE students get smaller classes and closer personal tuition and have as rich an experience at a local college as at a university.

The study found that in FEcolleges, personal support to students is offered through the classroom in the everyday teaching process, whereas support at universities is provided centrally through specialist services.

"Students in FE colleges stressed the value of smaller teaching groups and more face-to-face contact with tutors," the report said.

The LSDA hopes the findings will help colleges to find the right position in the market for delivering a major expansion in higher education in light of the government target of 50 per cent participation in the sector.

The report, Dimensions of Difference, says that currently one in nine higher education students are studying in the FE sector, with about 340 FE colleges in England delivering some higher education.

It says FE college students tend to be older, more local and often have family commitments. They also have lower entry qualifications and are more likely to come from poorer social backgrounds.

Maggie Greenwood, research manager, said: "Colleges have to consider where they see themselves going. They need to ask themselves whether they should specialise or generalise."

"Concerns about competition mean colleges must highlight what is special about their courses and what added value is offered."

But the stereotype of the university with its research-focused lecturers and the FE college with its "caring" teachers is too simplistic, said Ms Greenwood.

She added: "This research shows student experience is similar in colleges and universities, but it raises questions about the role of higher education in FE colleges and the overlaps between the sectors. Should colleges distinguish their programmes by title or level from those in universities? And should they engage in open competition with the universities? These issues need resolving."

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