SEVENTY FE colleges have been chosen to offer the first places on the new two-year Foundation Degree courses from next autumn, it was announced this week.
The colleges join 35 universities, employers and other organisations as members of 21 consortia appointed to deliver the vocationally-orientated qualifications.
The degrees are aimed at people who may not previously have considered higher education. They will provide a mixture of academic knowledge and technical skills, and have a work-based learning element relevant to the jobs market.
Many courses will be part-time, often delivered at local colleges. There will also be a route to an honours degree.
The consortium made up of Warwick University, North Warwickshire, and Hinckley College and Tile College, Coventry, local authorities and community organisations is one of the successful bidders.
Their degree course in community enterprise and development is aimed at those working in the voluntary sector - around 2.2 per cent of the total workforce.
John Field, professor of lifelong learning at Warwick University, is well aware of the value of co-operating with the colleges as they provide access to students the university cannot reach. "The irony is that 50 yards down the rod from my office is one of the most deprived areas in the city with the worst educational statistics.
"But I have to get people there through Tile Hill which is two miles away. The university is just too big a gap. We're keen to help with regeneration and the colleges provide an effective bridge. As for areas around Bedworth (north Warwickshire), we might just as well be on the moon."
He said that although Warwick would be the validating body the venture would be a partnership, jointly-owned and produced. He preferred this arrangement to a franchise as that sounded "a bit semi-detached".
Professor Field believes that most of the 50 students expected on the course will get tuition fees waived as their incomes will be low. "We'll go hell for leather for bursaries, the last thing we want is to put someone from a mining village, or any of them, in debt."
Warwick University's graduate association has a scholarship scheme for mature students and he intends to knock on doors "in my suit" to raise money from local industries who pride themselves on corporate giving.
The two colleges are enthusiastic about the degree scheme and have long been involved in regeneration of the community and widening participation. PAULINE NEILD