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HE case studies Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 11:14 GMT
'Good news' for vocational students
Frank Brown, head of school of technicians and HE at the College of North West London
Teachers welcomed more "foundation degrees"

Almost lost in the furore over university fees, the government's education white paper contained a very important announcement for students at local colleges.

That was a great expansion of "foundation degrees" - vocational qualifications which lead to full university honours degrees.

Students must either fund themselves through the course, or persuade an employer to fund them on a day-release basis.

What do students at the College of North West London in Dollis Hill think of the idea?

David O'Neill, 43, who is currently funding himself through an HNC in refrigeration and air conditioning, said a foundation degree would be "excellent" for people studying subjects such as engineering.

"There's a real problem in industry, where you get your vocational training and plenty of experience in the workplace and could be the best worker there, but you can't get into management without a degree.

Student Richard Fowler
Richard: A new course would not lessen his travelling expenses of 18 a day
"On the other hand if you have a degree in, say, factory production, you've done nothing on the frontline and you may make many mistakes which us lot on the factory floor have to take and deal with.

"With these foundation degrees, employers would know the managers have got some vocational training and know what they're talking about."

Mr O'Neill also felt it could open up areas of work previously closed to people from further education colleges.

"It could mean you could move into, say, design or project management, which you just can't do at the moment without a university degree."

HNDs and HNCs
HNDs are full-time, usually for two years
HNCs are part-time
Both qualifications are near to degree level
They are usually studied at local further education colleges
Foundation degrees are in practice similar, with a "top up" stint at a university which converts them to a full honours degree
Foundation degrees can be studied for two years full-time, or three or so years part-time, followed by a couple of terms at a university for conversion into the full honours degree.

Ross Evans, 24, who is doing an HND in refrigeration and air conditioning, thought a part-time foundation degree could have helped him fund himself through his studies.

Working through

"The problem I've got at the moment is no employers want to fund you through an HND because they are more or less full-time.

I've been ringing round for jobs saying I'm doing an HND and they say 'An HN what?'

Richard Fowler
"It's impossible to get a decent job when you can only work for two days a week.

"One firm wanted me to do an HNC instead, which is a lower qualification, so I could work for them at the same time.

"But with this, you can do it over four years by going in one day a week, and earn money as well."

Travel problems remain

The pledge to widen these courses is part of a government promise to hugely expand the numbers of young people into education.

Because they can be studied locally and part-time, they are meant to appeal to adults who work, or have children, or for other reasons would not normally be able to go to university.

However Richard Fowler, 19, whose parents are funding him through an HND, said in practice some hurdles could still be in the way, as not all courses will be offered everywhere.

Ross Evans
Ross likes the idea of working and studying at the same time
"The course we're doing is only really available here, in Grimsby or in Southampton. So this one's nearest for me but it still costs 18 to travel here."

However, he did feel that having a "foundation degree" could have helped him in a recent bout of applying for jobs.

"I've been ringing round for jobs saying I'm doing an HND and they say 'a HN what?'

"Lots of employers only recognise GCSEs, A-levels and degrees, so it might help in that respect."

'Marketing required'

Frank Brown, head of school of technicians and HE studies at the College of North West London, said he hoped to offer foundation degree courses from September 2003.

He said: "It's bound to benefit companies who want to get their employees to a higher level and it would solve the problem of people getting pointless degrees.

"Companies are saying now that lots of people have degrees but can't do a thing."

But he urged the government to market the idea properly to employers.

"At the moment, no-one's heard of them or knows what they are.

"There's been some leaflets sent out and that's about it, so students are coming in saying 'No, I'd rather stick with an HNC or HND."

  • Exam board Edexcel, which offers the BTec vocational qualifications, says it is finalising details with the Department for Education to integrate HNDs into the foundation degree framework.

    The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Margaret Hodge, said: "I am glad that Edexcel has responded quickly and positively and is working with us to develop HNDs into foundation degrees and make them a real success."

    Edexcel's director of qualifications, Paul Sokoloff, believes that the new arrangement removes the uncertainty from the future of Higher Nationals.

    He said higher and further education colleges could include HNDs in their plans for future academic years confident in the knowledge that they would in due course become foundation degrees.

  • See also:

    19 Jul 01 | Education
    28 Nov 00 | Education
    15 Feb 00 | Education
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