Even institutions that don't offer degrees can now compete for students on a level playing field, reports Harvey McGavin.
EIGHTY THREE colleges have joined the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, allowing them to compete for higher education students on equal terms with universities for the first time.
The UCAS board decided last September to relax their rules to allow further education colleges which offer at least one Higher National Certificate or Higher National Diploma to join. Previously, only institutions which offered at least one full-time degree course - about 50 FE colleges - were UCAS members.
Details of college courses beginning in autumn next year will now be included alongside universities in the new UCAS handbook. Their inclusion will bring the number of institutions listed in UCAS to 342. Nearly half of that number are now colleges.
The Association of Colleges, which had been campaigning for a rule change to increase FE membership, welcomed the move. The AOC's director of curriculum, Judith Norrington, said: "It can only be a good thing. Universities have had the opportunity of advertising and telling people about their courses through UCAS. One of the difficulties for colleges which have been outside UCAS has been getting people to know about the curses they offer."
People who wanted to study near home for financial or family reasons would now be better informed about the options at their local college, she said.
The influx of colleges will add to the administrative burden of UCAS, which already processes some 2.5 million applications a year. Their handbook, which runs to some 1,500 pages and lists some 45,000 courses, will be replaced by a smaller A4-size directory and CD-Rom.
UCAS chief executive Tony Higgins called it "a historic step in widening participation in higher education". He said: "Much of the Government's expansion of higher education is taking place in further education colleges and now, for the first time, UCAS applicants will be able to see what is on offer at many FE colleges as well as the larger universities and colleges of higher education."
"UCAS is the central admissions service for UK higher education, and it is only right that all those running higher education courses should have the same opportunity to recruit students both nationally and worldwide."
He predicted that colleges would expand their higher education options in response to demand. An announcement on a proposed new two-year "associate" degree which could be offered by further education colleges is expected shortly.