Against the integration tide

7th April 2000 at 01:00
Just when the rest of the world was talking of a seamless divide between further and higher education, Suffolk College decided to separate the disciplines. For Dave Muller, the principal, the argument was not about integration but "a clear understanding how best to progress from FE to HE".

The second largest FE provider of higher education, Suffolk offers 87 first degrees, 102 sub-degree courses such as HNDs, and 20 postgraduate masters degrees and teacher-training courses.

Until two years ago, further and higher education were fully integrated, but then the college opted to separate them. Why? Because it wanted to create the most effective management. Both sectors share many resources, library, IT and student services. But contrasting student demands were emerging. It is something many FE colleges will have to face up to as they expand into higher education, say senior managers.

Christine Dobson, head of higher education at Suffolk, says: "The decision to separate came about because we felt that both sectors would be better served by having their own dedicated staffs." It was thought that this would help both sectors to develop their own ethos and styles of delivery.

"It has been very effective. We have strong links that are beneficial, suc as progression from further education to higher education and the ability, through our size, to have facilities that can be shared by all students.

"It is about different styles of learning and delivery. HE students are taking more responsibility for their own learning. There is a style of research and inquiry which goes with their development, compared with a 16-year-old who comes into a programme where quite properly they are supported and material is delivered in a certain style suitable to that student."

The University of East Anglia validates the quality assurance for Suffolk's undergraduate degrees. Higher degrees are validated jointly by the university and the college.

Suffolk has a national and international reputation, recruiting students worldwide, particularly in health support services. It offers radiographic and other health studies degrees. Of its pound;24.5 million budget, pound;11m goes on higher education, almost one fifth of which comes from sources at the Department of Health .

But the college retains a strong sense of serving the vocational needs of its region. Here, the college sees great potential for encouraging the mature workforce in, say, the health industry to improve their qualifications and promotion prospects.

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