Delivering more higher education courses in colleges could emerge as a recommendation from the government's post-18 review of education and funding, experts have predicted.
The independent review panel on post-18 education and funding was launched by prime minister Theresa May at Derby College in February and it is believed she has pressed the panel to back the move in its initial report.
Times Higher Education (THE) reports that a vice-chancellor said that the idea of “pushing HE into FE” – where courses could be provided with lower tuition fees than in universities – appears to be a priority within the government. This could be seen as a way of bringing down tuition fees without increasing the deficit, both government priorities.
The teaching excellence framework (TEF), a system that assesses the quality of teaching in higher education, is seen as a potential driver for this reallocation of resources. Since its launch last year, 16 colleges have been awarded the top marks for teaching, showing that colleges can provide “gold” courses at lower costs than universities. In total 152 FE colleges have some sort of TEF ranking.
The government is also said to see a shift of resources from HE as a means of boosting colleges. Earlier this month the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that by 2020 per-student funding for colleges is expected to drop to its lowest level in three decades.
'Unbalanced and unfair'
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, told THE he believed that “reducing fees by getting more people doing HE in FE is likely to be under real discussion both in the Department for Education and by those doing the independent review.”
On Tuesday, the panel’s chair, former banker Philip Augar, told the Association of Employment and Learning Providers' national conference that evidence submitted to the review had pointed out that the current system was “unbalanced and unfair”, particularly for “non-traditional” students such as part-time and mature learners.
Low funding for FE was another theme that has emerged in the 400 pieces of evidence already submitted, Augar added.