Understanding higher education in further education colleges

SRHE Seminar
19 March 2013
Higher education provision in further
education colleges: some findings
and methodological considerations
Anne Thompson
What is it?
• HE in FE
• HE in FECs
• College based HE
‘HE in FECs is already a distinctive part of the HE system. While it
is dangerous to over-generalise about a diverse system, HE
students in FECs are more likely to be over 25, more likely to
study part-time, and more likely to come from areas with low
rates of participation in HE than students in HEIs. They are more
likely to be studying foundation degrees and sub-degree
programmes such as HNCs and HNDs.’
(Para 32, Higher education in further education colleges. Consultation on
HEFCE policy. HEFCE, November 2006/48)
2009: all directly and indirectly funded colleges required to
submit a higher education strategy to HEFCE by January 2010 to
cover all higher level provision (including NPHE)
(Request for higher education strategies from further education colleges,
March 2009/13)
What is higher education?
Above level 3/level 4 and above
National Qualifications Framework (NQF) - from 1997 all
accredited general and vocational qualifications. Originally five
levels with 4 and 5 being HE. Now nine levels - entry to level 8
NQF and QAA Framework for Higher Education Qualifications
(FHEQ) aligned at levels 4 to 8 in 2004, NVQ 4 and 5 not
Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) -regulated vocational
qualifications offered by recognised Awarding Organisations.
Nine levels – entry to level 8
Funding of HE in FECs
HEFCE funding:
• prescribed HE
• direct funding (whole qualifications only) - students registered
at the FEC
• indirect funding - via a franchise arrangement. Students
registered at the HEI but taught at the FEC
SFA funding:
• non prescribed HE (NPHE) – awards at level 4 and above on
the QCF
• excluding full cost provision
Data returns
Different data returns are made with different timescales and
HEFCE funded HE:
• where funding is indirect, the HEI includes the students taught at
the FEC on their HESA return as well as on the Higher Education
Students Early Statistics Survey (HESES)
• FECs with direct funding make the return via the ILR to the Data
Service and their early return to HEFCE, the Higher Education in
Further Education: Student Survey (HEIFES). The two sets of data
are subsequently (after end of year) reconciled by HEFCE
• returned on the ILR
• the definition of full-time and part-time varies from HEFCE’s
• as do the subject categories
Understanding higher education in further education
colleges, BIS Research Report Number 69, June 2012
Conducted March 2011 to March 2012:
• literature review
• statistical analysis of administrative data on provision and
• fieldwork in 25 FECs – interviews with college managers; HEI
partners; questionnaire survey of students; in class
discussions with students
• interviews with employers – national and collaborators with
National data analysis
Integrated data set for 2009-10:
• constructed using ‘fuzzy matching’ across the ILR and HESA
• analytical work undertaken by HEFCE, using model previously
developed by University of Sheffield
Categories of higher education used:
• Postgraduate
• Bachelor’s (first degree)
• Other undergraduate (FDs, HNs, Dip and Cert HE)
• Other higher level
Provision 2009-10
• 177,260 taught in FECs. 8% of the HE population
• 283 out of 349 FECs provided HE. Mainly in general FECs (224
out of 225) and specialist institutions (25 out of 33)
• 61% undergraduate; 36% other higher level; 3% postgraduate
• 60% part-time overall but, for undergraduate, 55% full-time
• 31% of students were directly funded by HEFCE; 33%
indirectly; 18% by LSC/SFA and 17% Other
• most colleges had more than one funding route; 37% had
• indirect funding partnerships involved 245 colleges and 68
• a minority of FECs accounted for the majority of HE students
• compared to HEIs, students in FECs were older
• 20% of new entrants taught at FECs were from low
participation areas compared to 11% for HEIs with the gap
being wider for young entrants than for older entrants
• those joining undergraduate courses had a broader range of
entry qualifications – fewer with A levels and more with level
3 vocational qualifications or lower level qualifications
• but more of the students taught in FECs than those taught in
HEIs had HE qualifications – many would have had an FD or
HN and progressed into the final year of a bachelor’s
Fieldwork – 25 FECs
Selection of 25 colleges using the integrated data set for 2006-07
• total of 299 colleges reduced to those with 400+ numbers =
• statistical selection taking into account volume and region
• for each college, target quotas totalling 100 identified for
qualification aim (Bachelor, Other UG and Other HE) by mode
(FT, PT)
Fieldworkers negotiated with college managers to identify
appropriate groups to administer questionnaires to meet targets
as well as one in-class discussion group per college
Methodological issues
For selection of 25 case studies:
• integrated data set (the only one available) was for 2006-07
• mergers had to be taken into account
For identification of quotas:
• it became evident volume and balance of qual aims had
changed since 2006-07
• the fieldworkers negotiated with college managers to identify
groups to meet the targets in summer 2011 but the
questionnaires were administered in autumn 2011 and
patterns of provision shifted (over and under recruitment)
During the project, 2009-10 data became available but the
questionnaire responses were gathered in 2011-12
For NPHE, there were particular problems in meeting the targets
leading to these students being excluded from the main analysis:
• NPHE and HEFCE-funded HE are often managed separately
and/or the data collected in separate MIS
• the patterns of provision had shifted considerably – usually a
decline but not always – apparently due to withdrawal of SFA
funding which had led to withdrawal of provision or a shift to
full cost funding
• where provision was identified, the staff and/or the students
often refused to participate in the project because it would
eat into very limited contact time for which significant fees
were usually being paid
Questionnaire findings
2,523 undergraduate students (Bachelor and Other UG):
• overall the students had traditional undergraduate
characteristics (female, aged 24 and under, white, single,
childless with highest qualification 2 A levels or equivalent)
but were mainly non-traditional in that neither parent had an
HE qualification
• the majority were aiming for an FD and studied full-time on a
course directly funded by HEFCE
• their motives for entering HE were primarily instrumental
• around 2/3rds had only applied to study at this college. This
and the selection of the college because it was close to
home/work or because they had previously studied there led
the author to question whether they were making an
informed choice
• a minority thought they had chosen to apply to a university
UCAS – applications and enrolment
One of the findings from the student questionnaires which
attracted attention was that 1 in 10 students did not realise they
were applying to a college rather than a university. It may not be
apparent to an applicant to a franchised course going via UCAS
that it is not taught at the HEI
2013/03 notes that around 40% of applicants to FECs do not go
through UCAS which limits the availability of early data on FEC
HEFCE funded provision
In 2012-13 187 FECs receive direct funding from HEFCE
65 of these were not in receipt of direct funding in 2011-12 but
were allocated numbers from the 20,000 places made available
under the ‘margin’.
155 FECs collectively received 10,354 places.
It appears that c 2,700 are unfilled (compared to 4,000 at HEIs).
The colleges undershooting were largely those with smaller
allocations (under 75).
(HEFCE 2013/03)
Widening participation and non-continuation indicators
for further education colleges. Overview of trends
HEFCE, August 2012, 2012/20
• Using ILR and HESA data 2008-09 to 2009-10
• Previously UK HE performance indicators did not include
(prescribed) HE provision for students registered at FECs.
Now to be produced annually
• In FECs the proportions of registered entrants who were
from low participation neighbourhoods (LPNs) were
higher than those proportions of taught entrants
Destinations of leavers from higher education in further
education colleges. Key findings: leavers up to
academic year 2010-11. HEFCE, January 2013, 2013/01
• The first publication of destination information for higher
education provision registered at HEFCE-funded FECs
• Previously the data for franchised students (i.e. registered at
HEIs) was captured in the HEI’s data but not that for directly
funded students (i.e. registered at the FEC)
• Derived from responses to the Higher Education in Further
Education Destinations of Leavers from the Higher Education
(HE in FE DLHE) survey 2008-09 to 2010-11
• To be produced annually
Shaping the future: opportunities for HE provision in FE
colleges. MEG and 157 Group, 157 Group, October
Report of a survey conducted May 2012 among members of
MEG and the 157 Group:
• uses data for 2009-10 provided by HEFCE but survey data is
for 2010-11
• found it difficult to capture data on NPHE. Notes the volume
of full cost funded NPHE is not collected
Higher education in England. Impact of the 2012
reforms, HEFCE, March 2013, 2013/03
Contains data on 2012-13 enrolment and trends.
Includes a section ‘How have further education colleges which
offer higher education been affected?’ summarising numbers
and reporting on the results of the survey conducted between
November 2012 and January 2013 asking colleges about
opportunities and challenges for the college and their students
2013/03 - HEFCE funded numbers in FECs
• Full-time undergraduate provision in FECs grew overall
between 2011-12 and 2012-13
• Franchise numbers dropped by slightly more than 4,000
(almost 15%)
• But directly funded places increased by 7,500 (26%)
• Overall (direct and franchise) the number of full-time
undergraduates increased by around 3,500 (almost 6%)
2013/03 - Recruitment
• The drop in overall full-time undergraduate applications and
acceptances (UK applicants) is much greater for mature
• There was a significant fall in part-time recruitment to HE
overall, especially for undergraduate provision. Part-time
students are more likely to be non-traditional and to be
• Colleges reported (in the survey) a drop in demand for parttime courses because of a reluctance to take out student
loans particularly among mature students
2013/03 - Partnerships
• HEFCE reports indications from HEIs that FECs are filling their
own places before franchise places which ‘would be a
contributing factor to under-recruitment at universities’.
‘These and other issues are causing some universities to
review their franchise provision, leading in some cases to
withdrawals from these partnerships’.
(para 100)
Understanding higher education in further education colleges.
BIS Research paper number 69, June 2012. Gareth Parry,
University of Sheffield, Claire Callender, Peter Scott and Paul
Temple, Institute of Education, University of London.
HE in FE Guide, AoC supported by LSIS, AoC 2012. Also on the
HEA website

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