Page last updated at 12:02 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Foundation degrees soar in number

University lecture
Just under half of foundation degrees in England are studied in universities

The number of students signing up for foundation degree courses in England has grown by 40% in the past two years.

Foundation degrees are two-year vocational courses, combining academic study with workplace learning. They are worth two-thirds of an honours degree.

Foundation Degree Forward (FDF), which promotes employer links with higher education, said enrolments rose 27,825 to 99,740 in the two years to 2009.

Universities Secretary Peter Mandelson wants to see more two-year courses.

The sharp rise in foundation degree take-up means the government's target of 100,000 courses in England has almost been met a year early.

'Hard work'

Director of policy and external affairs at the British Chamber of Commerce Adam Marshall said it was very encouraging to see enrolments growing so strongly against a backdrop of pressure on training budgets.

Chief executive of FDF Professor Derek Longhurst said: "These figures highlight the results of a lot of hard work, in partnership with organisations such as the British Chambers of Commerce, to ensure that the development of work-based higher level skills training is driven by the needs of employers and students."

But the news comes as the Higher Education Funding Council for England is withdrawing £24m in additional set-up money it was providing to universities offering these types of degrees.

This was because after nearly a decade of foundation degrees being provided by universities the set-up extra costs were no longer justified, a spokesman said.

He added that foundation degrees were a real success story.

More than half of foundation degrees, for which there are no set entry requirements, are offered in further education colleges.

The figures come a week after Lord Mandelson acknowledged that more would-be students were likely to miss out on going to university this year.

He encouraged universities to offer more flexible, two-year courses reflecting the changing nature of the people signing up for higher education courses.

Shadow Universities Secretary David Willetts said: "Whilst it is great to see so many people are now pursuing foundation degrees, the danger is that under Lord Mandelson many more students in future will be denied the chance to take up a foundation degree as universities claw back these places from colleges."

He said the Tories would fund an additional 10,000 university places on top of those provided in 2009-10.

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