Further education colleges widen access

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A NATIONAL report published last week has highlighted the efforts made by colleges such as Warwickshire College to widen access and participation for students taking higher education courses.

The college has lower fees than most universities, six local centres and provides support for poorer students, which means that getting a higher education qualification might be less expensive than people think.

The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) and Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) have published their 2009-2010 assessment report, comparing what is spent by universities and further education colleges in their efforts to attract poorer students.

It quite clearly shows that further education colleges are more than playing their part to encourage social mobility. They spend over 33% of their additional fee income on bursaries and scholarships, compared to just 22% for higher education institutions. The figures are even starker when it comes to the total amounts spent on access measures, including advice and support, with further education colleges investing nearly 40% of their additional fee income on access measures compared to only 25% for higher education institutions.

In the report, OFFA says: “Further education colleges have diverse student bodies and in many cases offer much more generous bursaries than we would expect them to.”

Ann Cotterill, Director of Higher Education at Warwickshire College said: “Much of the media coverage concerning the OFFA report has been focused on universities, but it is clear that it is actually further education colleges who are doing the ‘heavy-lifting’ on widening participation. We offer £750 per year to all full-time students who are in receipt of a full maintenance grant, so our access measures are wholly targeted at those who need them most.”

“Even when the fees rise in September 2012, we have been careful to set them at a level that will not disadvantage poorer students from coming here. Depending on the course and resources required to deliver it, our maximum fee will be £6500 going right down to as little as £4500.”

“Many students feel that higher education is not for them and it often comes down to money, status or even the way students feel they may be treated at university. At Warwickshire College, they can get the same excellent higher education with the same outcome for far less money. Where we do differ is that we offer much smaller class sizes and that means we can offer a more personalised and supportive learning journey.”

Peoples’ ability to move beyond the background into which they have been born is an ongoing problem, with the Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts saying recently that: “Social mobility in this country has stalled.”

Over 350 students have enrolled on full-time higher education courses at Warwickshire College this year. A few places are still available on courses including horticulture, creative studies and hair and beauty.

For more information, see www.warwickshire.ac.uk/courses or come along to one of the college’s open events between 15-20 October 2011.