FOUNDATION DEGREES are a mystery to many key employers including those in the nuclear industry according to recent research.
The study by Cogent, the sector skills council responsible for assessing the training requirements in the power business, has found that very few of its employers know about the qualifications. Cogent represents the chemicals, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, petroleum, polymer and nuclear industries which employ 906,000 people.
The findings are of particular significance to the nuclear industry, given a boost by the Government's recent backing of nuclear power in the energy white paper. The take-up of foundation degrees in its sector as a whole has been small, and employers still have to be persuaded of their value, the Cogent report says.
Its strategy development director, John Holton, said: "There has been a tendency to regard foundation degrees as `another qualification' rather than the up-skilling programme it actually is.
"This is due to poor marketing in our sector which is being addressed."
The research found that very few employers had prior knowledge of foundation degrees, other than information given by Cogent for the study. Of the nuclear industry companies, none was clear about the nature of the qualification. One employer said that his impression was that he thought employers and students would not be getting the benefit of "real degrees".
A government skills spokesman said: "We have a very active communication campaign to make employers aware of the huge benefits foundation degrees can bring to businesses and the workforce.
"Employers who have experience of the degrees are very enthusiastic about them. We are working with Foundation Degree Forward to develop our marketing campaign to raise their profile still further and build on success so far."
A new pound;18 million skills academy for the nuclear industry opens its doors near Sellafield in Cumbria next year. Nuclear Academy Northwest is set to become a national centre of excellence in training for the clean-up of the UK's old nuclear reactors and for building a new generation of power stations if they are given the go-ahead.
Foundation degrees are designed with employers and combine academic study with work-based learning. They attract people who would not normally consider university as a route into higher education.
The Government sees the expansion of these degrees as crucial to the growth of higher education currently there are 61,000 students taking them with a target of 100,000 by 2010.
In the energy, chemical and pharmaceutical industries, which face issues of an ageing workforce and negative perceptions from young people, they are also seen as playing a central role in raising skills.
Cogent says the qualifications are ideal for the nuclear industry, which needs to improve skills among workers on sites going into decommissioning and clean up phases.
The first foundation degree in nuclear decommissioning has been developed by the Lakes College West Cumbria in partnership with the University of Central Lancashire and a private training firm.