Universities will take the lead in providing the new qualification planned by David Blunkett. Where will this leave FE? Harvey McGavin reports
COLLEGES COULD find themselves playing second fiddle to universities in providing new two-year foundation degrees announced this week by the Education Secretary.
David Blunkett said higher education would have the "pivotal role" in the qualification. In a speech at the University of Greenwich, he said the degree would have a vocational focus, be accessible and academically rigorous, "drawing together further and higher education and the world of work".
It would be modelled on the American associate degree, and with students able to upgrade to a standard honours degree after another four terms of study.
Although it will be funded and awarded through the university system, colleges - which provide 46 per cent of sub-degree qualifications - will be keen to be key providers. Mr Blunkett told the Further Education Funding Council this week: "We cannot do it without the FE sector."
Colleges will hope work on the proposed "college diploma" will not be eclipsed and could form a blueprint for the new degree.
Another model could be the "associate degree" being piloted this September by Middlesex University in collaboration with five London FE colleges - Barnet, North East London, Harlow, Newham and Waltham Forest. They will take up to 200 part-time and 150 full-time students on two-year sub-degree courses. Graduates will be able to put AA (for associate of arts) or AS (associate of science) after their names.
Reactions to the foundation degree have been mixed. David Melville, chief executive of the FEFC, said the qualification would be "predominantly
college-delivered", and would elp to "cement" FE links to universities, offering new routes of progress.
But Judith Norrington, director of curriculum at the Association of Colleges asked whether the new qualifications were "meant to replace HNCs and HNDs or to go alongside them?" In fact the Government predicts that in time the degrees will subsume many other sub-degree qualifications.
David Muller, principal of Suffolk College, which has a large proportion of higher education students, said he thought a part-time, vocational degree would attract people in work and mature students.
Tom Wilson, of lecturers' union NATFHE warned the Government not to think of it as a cheap option. He said: "Cut- price expansion of HE through FE would simply lead to high drop-out rates, low quality and unacceptable workloads."
The qualification is part of an across-the-board overhaul of vocational learning - from apprenticeships to degrees.
The Government plans to pump an extra pound;30m next year into modern apprenticeships, creating "foundation" and "advanced" levels. At the annual conference of the FEFC in Birmingham, Mr Blunkett said these would "lead young people up a ladder of learning". He suggested a day a week off-the-job learning in college for apprentices.
Currently, only a third of modern apprentices reach "level 3" in qualifications, equivalent to two A-levels, and the minimum needed for university entrance.
The general national vocational qualification will be renamed a Vocational A-level "to give it the credibility it deserves."
Mr Blunkett, also named five new Beacon colleges: South Cheshire; the Northern College in Barnsley; North Lindsey in Scunthorpe; Tameside in Manchester; and Sir John Deane's in Northwich, Cheshire.