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Partnership perfects quality

Ian Nash finds that expansion of degree courses in the FE sector has been curbed despite burgeoning demand. Amersham and Wycombe College has built up a special partnership with Brunel University and Buckingham College. Together, they provide a range of vocational courses which none of them could do alone.

By franchising courses, spotting needs and exploiting economies of scale, they have a name for excellence in vocational courses such as art and design, says the college's marketing manager Philip Tristram.

"Eighteen months ago we were invited to bid (by the Higher Education Funding Council) for directly-funded work in priority areas where there was a noted lack of regional provision."

Like many colleges in the early days of expansion, they aimed high and gained contracts for media and the performing arts, and tourism and management. Driven by local needs and expansion targets, franchise arrangements with a university nine miles away worked well.

"We are four times over-subscribed for all our courses. It is not just about the volume of students in the market, but about quality and the fact that we provide a fast track to higher education and have an excellent employment record," said Mr Tristram.

The "further education" college now has 400 HE students. Look north to Barnsley or Blackburn - with 300 and 435 HE students respectively - and a similar picture emerges. The courses may be different, focusing on engineering, IT and manufacturing, but it is the same story of responding to local academic need.

All colleges contacted by The TES were aggrieved at the cuts which have halted HE expansion in many areas of FE. They were not just duplicating existing courses but adding to them. "What we do allows HE to focus on degree provision," said Mr Tristram.

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