Foundation Degree awarding powers granted to FE colleges for the first time

Newcastle College Group and New College Durham are the first FE colleges to be granted Foundation Degree awarding powers in England.

The announcement last week follows an intensive scrutiny process by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

Stephen Jackson, Director of Reviews at the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) told FE Week: “After working with Newcastle College and New College Durham and carefully considering the evidence, we were assured about the quality of student experience that each college provides, and their systems and procedures for establishing and maintaining academic standards.”

The development is a significant breakthrough for the Further Education sector and allows both New College Durham and Newcastle College Group to validate the foundation degrees which they currently offer.

Dame Jackie Fisher, Chief Executive of Newcastle College Group, told FE Week: “We are delighted to be able to award our own Foundation Degrees.

“Foundation Degree awarding powers creates a platform for us to forge ahead with our plans for Taught Degree awarding powers and gives us the opportunity to provide students with degrees that will give them the skills to get jobs and progress in their careers.”

Newcastle College Group plans to develop new degrees which satisfy national industry demands, such as jobs in the renewable energy sector.

The college is the country’s largest provider of Higher Education in an FE environment and offers more than 85 Foundation and Honours Degrees.

Newcastle College Group recently announced that it would charge a maximum of £5,800 for HE tuition fees, a figure significantly lower than that of many rival HE institutions.


FE Week has since spoken to Business Secretary Dr Vince Cable, who said: “Foundation degrees have grown in popularity in recent years, with around 100,000 students enrolled in them last year. We want to increase the study choices for students by enabling FE colleges to offer higher education qualifications; they can often do so in a more flexible way.”

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: “I am delighted that the first two further education colleges have now been awarded foundation degree awarding powers. We want to ensure that institutions offering high quality work-focussed degrees can compete on a level playing field for prospective students.”

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  1. James Austen

    We have to address standards in higher education. What is higher education nowadays? I traditionally believe that the brightest students should be admitted onto higher education courses, that are acadmically demanding and last a minimum of three years. It seems nowadays anyone can gain a degree from any institution, often vocational courses designed around a future job on graduation and even last two not three years! These courses are fine, but in my opinion are not ‘higher’ education courses and they should be called something else. Higher education is about using academic skills and approaches gained at University and then apply those skills in a future job. FE Colleges being able to award higher education degrees undermines the sector in my opinion.

  2. I think this is a very bad idea.

    Teaching contracts in the FE sector do not require lecturing staff to have a research output or undertake relevant academic updating in their chosen field, there is broadly not enough time in the FE calender to actually effectively undertake academic pursuits and as such the delivery of degrees in the FE sector is on very sketchy ground (coming from someone who has been doing exactly that for the last 6 years).

    I think the position of delivery is sketchy enough without research being part of a contract (with the attendant decrease in yearly teaching hours) but to be able to validate degrees without internal scrutiny by actual academics who are contractually bound to produce research of a high quality undermines the degree’s worth not just for the student who take it but for all the other degrees as well.

    You could point to the ‘CPD’ regulations as being some kind of surrogate for the updating which academics do, but your being disingenuous to the peer review process and the work that one actually has to do to maintain a position even at a post-92 university.

    Degree awarding powers should not be given to the army of middle managers in FE who lack any realistic experience of the academic pursuit of actual higher education.

    Higher education *does* have a place in large general FE colleges, they fill a gap that universities simply cannot fill – on the basis of numbers and locality, but the reality is that they are not universities and they don’t employ academics, they employ teaching staff, and until they do employ people as academics then they shouldn’t be awarding degrees.

  3. Mark Gogerty

    Having a concentrated 2 year degree course in some subjects such as history or politics could cover subjects in depth to an academic standard equivalent of a three year course. It may involve more lecture time and a higher volume of course work so as not to diminish its value.
    The end result could be an equally qualified student with less debt and agreater chance of clearing this debt in the short term.

  4. A70sgraduate

    Not surprised by this. It is the massification of ‘higher education’ and a consequence of the 50% participation aim. We have the choice – an elite HE whereby 10 – 20% enter into academic ivory towers or wide participation where a degree becomes the norm. Let’s be honest and blunt – if we want the degree standard of 20 or 30 years ago then we restrict the numbers; if we want a ‘better educated’ majority we open up access. Me- well I think the HND was a good thing.

  5. Accessfanatic

    What worries me slightly is if this is seen as “good enough” for those without the confidence to apply to the elite universities. For many bright mature students will this being on their doorstep limit their burgeoning aspirations and will financial considerations outweigh the undoubted benefits of a horizon wideneing HE exereince? I also agree with the above comments on lack of supporting the concept of academia/research in FE. I very much doubt that such a financially stretched sector will face up to the real issues of CPD for staff. To me this may reinforce dare I say it, class differences within HE, the middle class and elite will fill traditional HE even more than now – prepared to face up to the debt – whilst the aspirational working class for whom HE could be life changing will be channelled into HE in FE settings. And a final thought…..graduate employment………where are the jobs currently, if at all?