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157 Group and MEG report on HE in FE published

November 1, 2012

The 157 Group and the Mixed Economy Group (MEG) have just published a report Shaping the future: opportunities for HE provision in FE colleges. This provides a snapshot HE provision in 157 Group and MEG member colleges and presents a picture of how colleges have responded positively to the challenges in the 2011 white paper, Students at the Heart of the System, which aimed to expand HE provision in FE and offer opportunities for more individuals to aspire to higher education.

John Widdowson, chair of the Mixed Economy Group, said, “The changes to the larger HE environment have introduced a further period of uncertainty for all HE providers – and especially for colleges. Despite the confidence shown in FE colleges, the sector faces new challenges but also fresh opportunities. Success is not guaranteed, but can be made more likely by making decisions based on best practice and hard‑won experience.

Described as “a snapshot of HE provision in 157 Group and MEG member colleges at the end of the academic year 2011/12”, the report sets out the context in which the colleges that responded operate, their concerns and their plans for the future.

The report highlights in particular the ways in which colleges:

• are actively seeking new markets and developing innovative course offers that they regard as adding value or meeting specific local needs

• plan to recruit more local students, including more mature learners: some are also expanding their international marketing campaigns

• expect a growing need for more flexible provision, bringing into question established definitions of “full” and “part-time” study

• expect future students to be more demanding as a result of higher fees, despite the fact that most colleges will charge less than £7,500

• recognise the need to respond increasingly rapidly to the impact of Key Information Sets (KIS) and the National Student Survey (NSS).


Introduction to the report:

This report sets out the findings of a survey conducted in May 2012 amongst members of the Mixed Economy Group and the 157 Group. Our purpose in carrying out this exercise was to create a picture of the present state of play with regards to HE provision in FE colleges.

“Successive government policies since 1987 have sought a greater role for FE colleges in undergraduate education. The report of the Dearing inquiry into higher education in 1997, with its recommendation that “directly funded sub‑degree higher education develop as a special mission for further education colleges”, began an increasingly focused discussion of the delivery of mass higher education.2 This intensified in the first decade of the new century as participation levels first rose and then levelled out, at the same time as the economy began to falter and then decline.

“More recent white papers, notably the 2011 white paper, Students at the Heart of the System, focus on the need to address the aspiration for HE among school leavers and those in the workplace and a government commitment to a highly skilled workforce with the reality of a double‑dip recession. Student number controls and ‘core and margin’ allocations now provide the context within which both FE colleges and universities deliver HE. With this comes a test of long‑established partnership relationships and a drive on the part of provider institutions to find alternative ways of funding HE provision. If they are able to achieve this, they can preserve a critical mass of student numbers and teaching staff expertise.

“Our report looks at the ways in which colleges are responding to this challenge. MEG and the 157 Group recognise that HE in FE is distinctive and offers a route to better jobs, better health and better lifestyles than would otherwise be available to many of those with no family tradition of higher education.”

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