Ah, summer. School and college are out for another year, exams are taken and dusted off, and for many of us the long summer break means some well-deserved work. Thoughts turn to the holidays and all they entail, from books to take to the beach, to what to do with the kids for the next six weeks. It also marks the season of graduation celebrations; Across the country, graduates donned gowns and mortarboards to celebrate the end of their studies and (hopefully) the start of their careers.
As an FE college, you might think Westminster Kingsway would have little to do with degrees, but you’d be wrong. We are one of London’s largest providers of access to one-year courses leading to a higher education degree – in subjects ranging from engineering to midwifery to business . These provide a valuable pathway to a full-fledged degree course for hundreds of people of all ages each year.
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Access to higher education
These courses help students develop key study skills and include professional modules that give them the foundation they need to do well at the next levels. Access to HE degrees is widely accepted by universities and is equivalent to full Level 3 qualifications which have Ucas tariff points. This is because our courses cater to Londoners from all boroughs and our students are accepted to study at a wide range of universities across the UK, including those of the Russell Group.
Recently, we held our annual graduation celebration for our access students. As the college’s adult learning curriculum director, I’ve met many of those graduating this year and been struck by the different paths that have taken them to college.
For example, one student had been seriously ill when she was supposed to pass her A levels and had to drop out of school, while another had come to the UK later in life and found their country of origin were not enough to make them follow a course here. There are other stories I could tell, but the thread that ties almost all of them together is that the ‘traditional’ route from GCSEs and then A levels to higher education was not open to them and a course of access was their only viable option.
By allowing more people to access a university course, the access courses provided by FE colleges are therefore an essential piece of the educational puzzle and have helped thousands of people from disadvantaged backgrounds to improve their mobility. social. However, as the recent Augar review points out, they are under threat. Colleges face serious, and arguably unfair, competition from the better-funded university sector, which offers one-year courses in the “core years”. These one-year courses usually cost the same as each year of a full degree – universities can charge up to a maximum tuition fee of £9,250.
Level the playing field
By contrast, university access to the HE course costs just £3,500 per year (learners can also take out an advanced learning loan to cover the cost, which is wiped out when they have completed their foundation degree). However, having benefited for years from being able to charge upwards of £9,000 per student per year, universities have the financial wherewithal to outperform FE colleges for these students… to the financial detriment of the student.
We have excellent close relationships with many universities including Middlesex University, London South Bank University and others where staff and students from these universities visit the college to speak to our learners and support them in their transition towards higher education.
We see ourselves as partners with the university sector, but would like to see more students access learning in the supportive environment of FE. Accordingly, we welcome the Augar Review’s recommendation to withdraw student funding for the core years attached to degree courses, as this would level the playing field between FE and universities, while providing better value for money for students and taxpayers.
We welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with universities to provide access to higher education qualifications to better prepare students for university. By working closely with universities, we can ensure that we prepare learners for their higher level programs.
As another academic year draws to a close and students and staff leave for their summer vacation, let’s see if we can work together to enable even more people to realize their dream of an affordable degree.
Tulay Rashid-Grant is Director of Curriculum, HE, Access to Higher Education and Adult Professional Learning at Westminster Kingsway College