Many students on higher education courses at further education colleges can expect a learning experience that exceeds UK expectations, says a new report from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA).
However there are also a number of areas where improvement is needed.
QAA developed Higher Education Review (HER) in response to a HEFCE-led review in 2012 as a proportionate approach that is alive to risk in checking the standards and quality of an increasingly diverse higher education sector. Today's report analyses the first year of findings.
While it is hard to draw conclusions about UK universities (only two were reviewed under the new method in 2013-14), the report offers revealing insights into the higher education courses provided by 45 further education colleges.
A number of colleges showed good practice in how they planned courses, taught and supported students, and encouraged staff development, with 11 of the 45 colleges reviewed (23 percent) receiving one or more Commended judgements from QAA.
Four of these commendations were awarded to the five colleges reviewed that offer land-based subjects, which are studied by around 40 per cent of students on higher education courses at further education colleges.
'Many colleges do extremely well at providing work-related higher education,' explained QAA Chief Executive Anthony McClaran.
'Since the introduction of the Foundation Degree, many have developed dynamic working relationships with employers. Agriculture and related studies are a particular example of how this can work well for students.'
The report shows that almost one in three of the colleges reviewed requires some form of improvement, but only 13 percent of providers were judged to be not meeting UK expectations.
Areas identified as requiring improvement include provision of information for students, engagement with students' views, partnerships with employers, and active measures to improve the student experience ('enhancement').
'College higher education is very diverse,' said Mr McClaran. 'It does a great job at widening participation and increasing the range of courses students can choose to study. Still, we have found that a few colleges need to focus more strongly on developing the robust higher education ethos that we rightly expect from all UK providers.'
Through action plans and follow-up activities, colleges have the opportunity to address areas where they need to improve, with the aim of meeting expectations and achieving an amended judgement from QAA.
Notes to editor
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