Updated courses prove they are 'fit for purpose'

Higher National programmes, which are uniquely Scottish, have won a premier training award and will compete in the UK finals in December. Neil Munro reports

An ambitious effort to modernise Higher National programmes in the Scottish further education sector, which has taken five years, involved an estimated 8,000 college staff and cost Pounds 8 million, has won a premier training award.

The updating of Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas, which are achieved by around 30,000 learners a year, took top prize for partnership and collaboration in the Scottish heat of the National Training Awards, run by Skills Development Scotland. It now heads for London on December 11 to compete in the UK finals.

Linda McTavish, principal of Anniesland College in Glasgow who chaired the partnership group, said: "The scale of what we have achieved is immense, with over 8,000 people involved, and we will continue to see the benefits it has brought to students, college staff and the skills of the Scottish workforce for many years to come."

The partnership also involved the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the Scottish Further Education Unit and the Colleges' Open Learning Exchange Group. Within three years, they had succeeded in reducing 800 HN group awards to 289 and 10,000 HN units to 6,000.

HNCs and HNDs, which have existed for over 80 years, play an increasingly pivotal role in further and higher education. Apart from being qualifications in their own right, they provide links for students to progress from National Qualifications and Skills for Work courses and act as a bridge for those moving upwards to degree courses.

HN programmes, which are uniquely Scottish, are classed as part of higher education and are one of the major reasons why participation in HE in Scotland is greater than in the rest of the UK. More than 30 per cent of young Scots entering HE for the first time do so in a college.

But the courses have been sorely in need of updating for the best part of a decade to make them "fit for purpose"; HN computing courses, for example, contained references to daisy-wheel printers. Work was ready to start in 1998, and then it all fell apart when the exams crisis hit the SQA in 2000.

Eventually, the SQA began to work closely with colleges on the modernisation agenda, which ranged from staff development to the design of the courses.

Gordon McIntyre, who has had responsibility for courses in hospitality, events and business at Glasgow Metropolitan College, described the project as "fantastic to be involved in". "It gave the sector real control and ownership of the courses," he said. "It also encouraged collaboration between colleges throughout Scotland, which will continue," he said.

He attached great importance to the adoption of a phased approach to cope with the fact that some HN units were completely new while others had simply been revised.

Gary Anderson, the curriculum leader in sport, golf and hospitality at Elmwood College in Cupar, Fife, said that developing the HN awards "brought a mixture of anxiety, delight and frustration, but ultimately a great deal of satisfaction.

"It's rewarding to see this year's cohort of students developing and enjoying their time here because of the distinctive way we deliver the qualification".

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