Providing opportunities for learners to reach their full potential is one of the core purposes of any college. And, increasingly, higher education is an integral part of what many colleges have to offer.
Colleges argue that their provision comes with smaller class sizes than at many universities, large amounts of contact time and access to teaching staff, as well as extensive support packages tailored to the college student cohort.
So why, then, would they not charge the same level of tuition fees as the local university? And one has to wonder if charging any less than a neighbouring HE institution might send a message to learners and the wider community that, somehow, something lesser was on offer there.
Alongside all this, most colleges do not enjoy the vast economies of scale that many universities can rely on. For some courses, charging higher fees is almost unavoidable – offering them simply comes at a higher cost.
And indeed, TES reveals today that the number of colleges charging £9,000 – currently the highest fee level – is set to increase further next year after doubling this year.
There is, however, another side to this argument – one that goes to the very heart of what colleges are for. While charging less for HE may send an unintended message to some that quality of provision may be low, the message to other learners could be an entirely different one.
Even if support packages and bursaries are in place, there will be some learners for whom £9,000 fees will be at the very least a cultural barrier. They will feel that, just like university degrees, such a college course cannot possibly be for people like them.
Among this group will be those who have taken a less traditional route through education than those students who head straight to university from their local sixth form. Many of them will never even have considered degree-level study before.
It is absolutely crucial that as colleges build their HE offering, compete with universities and increase in size, they do not close the door on these learners.