Colleges carve their niche alongside local businesses

Burton College has dug out a niche for itself by training highly skilled engineers for JCB.

The construction and agricultural equipment manufacturer - Staffordshire's biggest employer - teamed up with the college to design a bespoke foundation degree. Next year, JCB staff are due to complete the three-year part-time programme for the first time.

The course trains assembly line workers and to become design and production engineers. College tutors visit the JCB factory one day a week.

Keith Norris, principal of Burton College, said: "Of the first group of students, all 14 got promotion. Staff were starting to go to JCB's personnel manager saying 'Look, we think we could become design engineers'."

The college started designing a higher national diploma for the company six years ago. Norris says JCB was attracted to developing the foundation degree given the HND's success, the company's expansion and a shortage of highly skilled people.

At City College Norwich, students have just completed the country's first foundation degree in financial services.

The two-year course was developed by the college with the University of East Anglia and companies including Norwich Union and insurance services firm Marsh. Potential students apply to their employer, not the college.

"In Norwich, 30 per cent of employment is in financial services," says Jenny Probert, head of the college's business school. "So we had a strong employers' group here and we were able to work with them."

All the first wave of students are now taking a new BA honours degree in professional studies - again with the support of their employers'.

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