Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Colleges 'Play a Vital Role' in Widening Access to HE

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Colleges 'Play a Vital Role' in Widening Access to HE

Article excerpt

Impact of degree-level provision in FE institutions is highlighted by new research

THE CRUCIAL role that colleges play in offering students from the most deprived parts of the country access to higher education has been acknowledged in a landmark study.

The research, commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), reveals that one in 10 HE students attended an FE college in 2013-14.

The make-up of HE students in FE institutions differs significantly from those attending universities, with a higher proportion of part-time and older learners (see figures, above). The percentage of learners from "cold spots" - the 20 per cent of areas with the lowest HE participation - is almost double that seen in HE institutions.

And today's report, produced by RCU for the ETF, also shows that student recruitment is far more localised in colleges: the average distance between home and college is just 17 miles, less than a third of the average distance for those attending a university.

As a result, the study concludes that colleges are "much better placed" than universities to deliver the skills required by local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and local employers.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said the research confirmed the positive impact of colleges in their communities. "We know there has been a drop in part-time higher education numbers nationally, so I am pleased further education colleges are still offering flexible routes in higher education to adults who want to get on in life and in work," he said.

Mr Hughes added that skills devolution offered greater opportunities for local authorities and LEPs to work more constructively with colleges to address the skills requirements of people already in work who needed that flexibility and progression.

Economic boost

The report also quantifies the economic impact of HE in FE: the lifetime benefits for college-based HE students who completed their degrees in 2013-14 have been valued at just under £4 billion.

This figure, the report stresses, does not take into account the productivity boost for employers resulting from individuals gaining higher-level qualifications - which could be as much as twice the increase in wages.

Sheila Kearney, head of research at the ETF, said: "The analysis illustrates how successfully FE is responding to the government's expectations for college-based HE."

Some 9.8 per cent of HE students in 2013-14 were enrolled at a college, the statistics reveal - of these, 44 per cent were on part-time courses. …

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