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A lure for the locals

If the West of England finally gets its much-vaunted new university, Cornwall College would be a central part of it. One in three of its 21,000 students are on higher education programmes already - 1,800 of them postgraduates.

The foundation degree would appear to be tailor-made. Indeed, the four FE colleges that serve the county should be able to validate their own degrees since they would have the status, being part of the university.

For Cornwall, the largest rural college in the country, the national status and recognition of its degrees would help define a clearer balance between courses for local people and those from the national pool of applicants for specialised studies.

Martyn Oliver, the college's marketing director, sees the advantages. "While we are offering a quality assured degree, the fact that we do not have the title 'university' above our door is always going to make it more difficult to recruit and make the students feel as good."

The withering away of HNDs in favour of the foundation degree would not be too great a loss for the college. Although it is a good qualification, it does not offer a clear progression to students and is therefore difficult to recruit for, he said.

Butwhat of the downside? The high-quality provision offered by Cornwall is validated largely by Plymouth University. Neither Plymouth nor neighbouring Exeter University wishes to see their markets go, which would be inevitable with the new university.

Cornwall offers BAs in social science and environmental resource management, a BSc in social science and a foundation BSc year in marine studies, engineering and science degrees, from which local people move on to Plymouth University.

Plymouth would have a vested interest in maintaining such links to keep the locals local. It also creates more home-based opportunities for people who cannot afford to move. Cornwall is a relatively poor region and the expense of travelling could be crippling, said Martyn Oliver. "Our class sizes also tend to be quite a lot smaller than a university's, so our quality of student care tends to be much better as a result," he says.

One potential financial problem is the lack of capital resources. As an FE sector college, Cornwall has no access to this pot. If a new building is needed, the college must find its own cash. Under the foundation degree proposals, and with a new university status, such funds would come flowing in.

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