Colleges key to HE expansion

7th August 2009 at 01:00
Growth of degree-level courses at FE colleges essential to widening access to higher education

Further education colleges' degree-level programmes should be expanded because they are "at the centre" of widening participation in higher education, MPs have said.

The Commons innovation, universities, science and skills committee said that to expand higher education further, it might be necessary for more students to be able to start higher education in college and transfer credits to a university later.

Its report pointed out that colleges already provide more than a third of university entrants as well as teaching one in eight HE students on their own campuses. They are also more likely to have students from poorer backgrounds.

Community colleges in the United States offer courses with a potential transfer into a state university after two years, bringing with them transferable credits for the work already done.

The committee said this could provide a model for expanding HE in Britain to meet the target of 40 per cent of adults gaining degree-level qualifications by 2020.

The committee's report said: "In our view, if the community college credit system model operating in the US were adopted in England, it would provide much greater flexibility in higher education in this country, which will be essential to widening participation.

"We consider that one route to the introduction of the model is to expand the provision of higher education in further education colleges."

John Widdowson, principal of New College Durham and chair of the mixed economy group of colleges which already deliver significant amounts of HE, said: "We already have a good relationship with American community colleges and so we welcome the committee's recommendation that the country mirrors their model more closely."

Evidence submitted to the committee from the Inquiry into Lifelong Learning, set up by the adult education body Niace, questioned whether there was the political will to introduce a credit system, however. More than one in 30 students switched universities within a two-year period, with most receiving no credit from their prior work.

As economic uncertainty made it less attractive to take a long time out of work for study, the need for a flexible, transferable system was expected to grow.

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