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Diverse provision in higher education options and challenges

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Diverse provision in higher education options and challenges

    Diverse provision in higher education: options and

    challenges

Report to the Department for

    Business, Innovation and Skills in July 2010

    Published February 2011

     ? HEFCE 2011

Contents

    Executive summary ................................................................................................................... 2 Introduction ................................................................................................................................ 5 What is ‘diverse provision’? And why is it important? ............................................................ 5 The evidence base ................................................................................................................. 6 The structure of the report ..................................................................................................... 6 The higher education landscape ............................................................................................... 8 Full-time first degrees............................................................................................................. 9 Part-time first degrees ..........................................................................................................10 Foundation degrees full and part-time ..............................................................................10 Other forms of provision .......................................................................................................11 Higher education undertaken in further education colleges ................................................13 Student preferences for diverse provision ...........................................................................14 Provision with the potential for growth .....................................................................................15 Foundation degrees .............................................................................................................16 Accelerated honours degrees ..............................................................................................22 Part-time provision ...............................................................................................................29 Other issues .........................................................................................................................36 Strategies for encouraging diverse provision ..........................................................................42 What do we do already to encourage and enable diverse provision?.................................42 Options for encouraging a wide range of provision .............................................................46 Conclusion ..............................................................................................................................50 Annex A Case studies .............................................................................................................52 Annex B List of abbreviations ..................................................................................................59

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    Diverse provision in higher education: options and challenges

    Report to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in July 2010

    Explanatory note

    1. This report was originally produced as advice to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in July 2010. It was therefore written in a different context, before the Browne Review and changes to higher education policy announced in late 2010. The document below is published as originally submitted to BIS, and does not reflect this changed context. Nor have we generally made changes of tense, for example. 2. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills requested, in our grant letter for 2011-12, that we make the report publicly available. Readers are asked to bear in mind throughout their reading the date at which the report was requested (December 2009) and when it was finalised and submitted to BIS (July 2010). They are also asked to note that the wording reflects it being written as advice to the Secretary of State. We hope that it provides a useful resource for those interested in discussing, exploring, and promoting flexible and innovative forms of provision. Please direct any enquiries about this publication to Sheila Wolfenden (tel 0117 931 7301, e-mail s.wolfenden@hefce.ac.uk).

    Executive summary

    Purpose

    3. This report was produced in response to a request in our grant letter for 2010-11, issued by the previous Government. In that grant letter, the then Secretary of State indicated that he wished to see a shift away from full-time three-year degrees and towards a wider variety of provision. He asked us to assess current trends in demand, and to provide initial advice as to how ‘diverse provision’ can be encouraged.

    4. After the general election in May 2010, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills informed us that:

    a. The request still stood following the change of Government.

    b. The focus should continue to be on undergraduate provision that differs from the

    ‘standard offer’ of an honours degree completed in three years through full-time study.

    c. The 2010-11 grant letter request was intended to support three policy priorities:

    widening participation; meeting the needs of employers; and providing value for money. Key points

    5. In this report we conclude that:

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    a. The higher education sector is already highly diverse. Although the full-time first degree is the most popular mode of undergraduate study, there is a strong part-time sector and students study a variety of undergraduate programmes, including foundation degrees, Higher National Diplomas and Certificates (HND/Cs), certificates of higher education, and other credit-bearing courses or modules.

    b. Of the forms of diverse provision that we consider, some contribute towards widening participation and towards meetings the needs of employers. However, present evidence suggests that diverse forms of provision are rarely cheaper than the standard model, and often incur additional costs.

    c. Demand for three-year full-time degrees currently outstrips supply and this discourages diversification: if institutions can easily recruit to target on standard programmes, they have less incentive to explore new models. To encourage a shift towards diverse provision, it would be necessary to change demand from students. This might be facilitated by a change in the student support regulations, but it would also require a cultural shift in the way in which young students, in particular, think about their route through higher education.

    d. The financial climate may also discourage institutions from exploring forms of provision that are perceived as higher risk. The impact of the control on student numbers on diverse provision is as yet unknown; it may encourage part-time provision, but discourage institutions from offering shorter full-time courses such as HNC/Ds and foundation degrees.

    e. We could use supply-side measures to encourage institutions to offer more diverse provision, but this would require funding. This funding could either be additional or diverted from full-time three-year degrees. The latter option would be controversial given the strong demand for full-time provision.

    6. We consider three particular forms of diverse provision foundation degrees,

    accelerated degrees and part-time provision and conclude that:

    a. Provision of foundation degrees has grown strongly since their introduction. But this growth has been supported by a number of funding incentives, including additional student numbers and the foundation degree premium/targeted allocation. It is unlikely that provision will continue to grow in a less favourable funding climate. b. Accelerated honours degrees occupy a very small niche market, and appeal largely to older students. There is some potential for growth within this market, and this might be aided by a centrally co-ordinated information campaign (at present, many students do not know the accelerated route exists). Early evidence suggests that accelerated honours degrees may make an indirect contribution to widening participation. However, their credibility with employers, and outside the UK, is uncertain. The institutions that offer accelerated degrees believe that they are no

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    1cheaper to offer than three-year degrees; we have commissioned a costing study to

    assess whether evidence supports this view.

    c. Institutions identified the student support regime as the main barrier to

    expansion of part-time provision. It is possible that more generous support

    arrangements for part-time students might lead to a growth in part-time provision,

    although we believe that it will continue to appeal largely to older learners. Some

    evidence suggests that attempts to encourage growth of part-time provision should

    concentrate on more intensive part-time provision (at 50 per cent, or greater, of the

    intensity of full-time study). This is because higher-intensity provision is more efficient

    in producing graduates, due to the higher completion rates. There may, in particular,

    be the scope to grow very high intensity part-time provision that is, provision that

    offers an honours degree in four or five years. Given the right student support, this

    could provide a real alternative to the full-time route.

    Action required

    7. This document is for information. No action is required by institutions.

1 Now published as ‘Costing study of two-year accelerated honours degrees: Report to HEFCE by Liz Hart

    Associates (February 2011), available at www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/rdreports.

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Introduction

    28. This report arises from a request in HEFCE’s grant letter for 2010-11. The then

    Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Lord Mandelson, wrote:

    We want to see more programmes that are taken flexibly and part-time and that a

    learner can access with ease alongside their other commitments. We also wish to

    see more programmes, such as foundation and fast-track degrees, that can be

    completed full-time in two years. The underlying theme is providing for diversity. Over

    the next spending review period, we will want some shift away from full-time three

    year places and towards a wider variety of provision. I would like you to assess

    current trends in demand; to lead a debate on how diverse provision can be

    encouraged; and to give me initial advice by Summer 2010.

    9. In this report, we address this request. Since we are providing initial advice, we do not make firm recommendations, but have instead identified a series of options which may merit further discussion. We believe that this balanced approach is appropriate, given the complexity of the task, and the change of Government that has taken place since the issuing of the 2010-11 grant letter.

    10. We welcome further discussion, advice or information on any of the topics we address. We have discussed this report with officers in the current Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and they suggested some topics that may be of interest to the new Government where possible, we have addressed these.

    What is ‘diverse provision’? And why is it important?

    11. We were asked to consider how diverse forms of provision could be encouraged. From conversations with BIS, we established that our focus should be on undergraduate provision that differs from the ‘standard offer’ of an honours degree completed in three years through

    3full-time study. The 2010-11 grant letter asked us to pay specific attention to full-time foundation degrees and two-year accelerated degrees. But there are other, non-standard ways of engaging with and providing higher education, including part-time study, distance learning, work-related learning, mixed modes of study, franchising to local providers and involving private providers in various ways. In this report, for ease of reference, we refer to all the modes of study mentioned in this paragraph as ‘diverse provision’.

    12. We could not assess the potential for encouraging diverse provision without also considering the policy objectives behind the grant letter request. BIS advised us that the 2010-11 grant letter request was intended to address the following priorities:

2 ‘Higher education funding 2010-11’, paragraph 4. The grant letter may be read in full at

    www.hefce.ac.uk/news/hefce/2009/grant1011/letter.htm.

    3 For this reason we have not focused, in this report, on alternative ways of delivering a bachelors degree over three years. We understand that topic is of interest to the new Government, and would be very willing to provide further advice on this.

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    ; widening participation: promoting and providing the opportunity of successful

    participation in higher education to everyone who can benefit from it

    ; meeting employers’ needs in terms of graduate employability and of improving the

    skills of those already in work

    ; providing value for money.

    We refer back to these priorities throughout the report.

    13. We also take into account, throughout the report, the importance of student needs and preferences. At times, these different priorities may conflict for instance, options that

    address widening participation can require additional funding.

    The evidence base

    14. This report draws on a range of sources. The student data derive largely from analysis of individualised student records collected annually by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). We also refer to earlier reports published by HEFCE, such as ‘Part-time first

    4degree study: Entry and completion’ (HEFCE 2009/18) and our surveys of non-regulated 5fees. We have drawn on reports external to HEFCE, such as Universities UK’s 2006 report on part-time students and part-time study. We have also relied heavily on conversations with institutions and with other organisations, such as the National Union of Students, which has helped us understand, more informally, some of the barriers to diverse provision. This has been particularly important in assessing students’ motivations in choosing their paths through higher education, because HEFCE does not collect data on this topic.

    The structure of the report

    15. The discussion that follows is organised into three parts. First, in paragraphs 23 to 63, we discuss the current higher education landscape, noting that while there is already an 6enormous diversity of higher education provision, the full-time first degree continues to be

    the form of provision most frequently undertaken. In this section, we also discuss some of the factors that may encourage students to undertake diverse forms of study or inhibit them from doing so.

4 All HEFCE publications are available at www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs.

    5 See ‘Survey of fees for postgraduate taught and part-time undergraduate students’ at

    www.hefce.ac.uk/learning/funding/price.

    6 The term ‘first degree’ used throughout this report is based on the HESA definition of an honours or ordinary degree programme of study. For more details of this definition see paragraph 25. However, four-year sandwich courses or extended first degrees (such as integrated masters programmes) also fall within the HESA definition of ‘first degree’ and this should be noted when considering HESA-based statistics. Note

    also that the term ‘first’ in this context does not necessarily imply that it is an individual learner’s first instance of study on a degree programme.

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    16. Second, in paragraphs 64 to 170, we identify three forms of diverse provision that may have some potential for growth, although the potential varies in each of the three cases. These are: foundation degrees; two-year honours degrees (‘accelerated degrees’); and part-

    time provision. We assess their potential against the three priorities (widening participation, employers’ needs and value for money) identified by BIS (see paragraph 12). In this part of

    the report, we also describe some of the factors that enable or facilitate diverse provision, including: distance learning; credit accumulation and transfer; and workplace learning. 17. Then, in paragraphs 171 to 210, we consider some of the ways in which HEFCE already supports diverse provision and identify further steps that could be taken to encourage a shift away from the traditional model of a full-time degree programme and towards other forms of study.

    18. The report ends on a cautionary note: although we could, within limits, encourage institutions to provide more diverse forms of provision, the real challenge will be changing the demands and expectations of students, many of whom see a full-time, first degree programme as the natural progression from school or college. This change might be encouraged by appropriate financial incentives (for instance, changes to the student support regulations). But it would also require the sort of cultural shift that comes about slowly, and which it is difficult for policy-makers to prompt.

    19. For this reason, the report concludes that it would be challenging to bring about a large-scale shift away from the traditional model of a degree programme, at least in the short term. In this report, we concentrate mainly on the fairly small shifts that we believe could realistically be achieved within the next two to three years. We also note that more ambitious changes may be possible in the longer term, although these would depend on changes to the funding environment (particularly the student support package). Since the report was written changes have started to be announced by the Coalition Government that are likely to have an impact on behaviour and attitudes toward diverse provision.

    Data and definitions used in this report

    20. Throughout this report, all counts of entrants and/or students are given in terms of headcount, rounded up or down to the nearest five, although percentages are calculated and reported based on unrounded values.

    21. When students are said to be ‘at’ a higher education institution (HEI) or further

    education college (FEC), the institution referred to is where the students are registered, not necessarily where they are taught. Any exceptions to this approach are clearly stated. 22. Throughout this report, we use the HESA definitions of full-time study. Full-time students are those normally required to attend an institution for periods amounting to at least

    724 weeks within the year of study, on thick or thin sandwich courses, and those on a study-

    7 A sandwich course is a course that includes at least one work experience placement. This may be ‘thick’ (where two years are spent at university, a third in industry, and the final year at university) or ‘thin’ (where

    part of each year is based in industry).

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    8related year out of their institution. This means that a small number of students, such as

    those studying through distance learning, may study for 120 credits a year and yet not be counted as full-time.

    The higher education landscape

    23. This section describes the numbers of students registered on full-time first degree programmes of study as well as in diverse forms of provision such as foundation degrees, part-time study and accelerated degrees. It also identifies the characteristics of students studying on different modes and levels of provision, and notes trends when this is possible. Unless otherwise indicated, data are drawn from analysis of the HESA student records. 9Figures are based on the HESA standard registration population, and focus on 2008-09

    entrants to English higher education institutions who lived in either the UK or other EU countries before starting their courses (‘UK- and EU-domiciled’) unless otherwise specified.

    24. All the programmes described below, in paragraphs 27 to 55, fit within the Framework 10for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For example,

    first degrees (including honours and ordinary, full-time and part-time, and sandwich degrees) terminate at Level 6. Foundation degrees and Higher National Diplomas (HNDs, both full and part-time) terminate at Level 5, and Higher National Certificates (HNCs) at Level 4. Integrated masters terminate at Level 7. The Framework makes no reference to the time taken to complete an award, so part-time qualifications and accelerated degrees are not mentioned separately. Accelerated degrees, since they are honours degrees but taken in intensive mode over two years, are included within the honours degree designation at Level 6.

    25. It should be noted that the modes of study described are not always exclusive. For instance, some students move from full-time to part-time study, or vice versa, and a student with a foundation degree might ‘top-up’ to a first degree.

    26. Some key statistics for 2008-09 are:

    ; 57 per cent of entrants were studying full-time and 43 per cent were studying part-time ; 33 per cent of part-time entrants were studying at the Open University (OU) ; 58 per cent of entrants were studying for a first degree

    ; 85 per cent of full-time entrants were studying for a first degree, compared with only

    22 per cent of part-time entrants

    8 During that time students are normally expected to undertake periods of study, tuition or work experience amounting to an average of at least 21 hours per week.

    9 Further information regarding the definition of the HESA standard registration population is available at www.hesa.ac.uk/index.php/content/view/97/136/.

    10 The Framework describes the achievement represented by higher education qualifications. For more details see www.qaa.ac.uk/academicinfrastructure/FHEQ/default.asp.

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    ; 6 per cent of entrants were studying for a foundation degree, less than 2 per cent for

    an HND or HNC

    ; 63 per cent of full-time students were under 20, compared to 6 per cent of part-time

    students.

    Full-time first degrees

    27. The full-time first degree continues to be the form of undergraduate provision most frequently undertaken. The HESA definition of a first degree includes honours degrees, ordinary degrees and integrated masters degrees, but it does not include foundation degrees.

    1128. In 2008-09, the total entrant headcount across all undergraduate qualifications was

    654,550. Of these, 378,135 (58 per cent) were registered on first degree programmes of study. Of those first degree entrants, 316,785 were studying full-time (accounting for 48 per cent of the total entrants and 84 per cent of first degree entrants). These proportions have remained fairly consistent over the past five years.

    29. In many cases, full-time first degree provision will reflect the traditional model of a three-year degree programme, although four-year sandwich courses or extended first degrees (such as integrated masters) are also part of the HESA definition of ‘first degree’.

    30. Full-time first degree students form a much larger proportion of the student population at research-intensive institutions than at others.

    31. Characteristics of full-time first degree entrants in 2008-09 include:

    a. They were typically young (that is, aged 20 or below on entry to their course).

    The mean age of entrants to full-time first degrees in 2008-09 was 20.4, compared to a

    mean age of 33.8 for part-time first degree entrants (the mean conceals a wide range

    of ages including some young students).

    b. Fifty-five per cent were female, compared to 62 per cent of part-time first degree

    entrants.

    c. Of those who gave details of their ethnicity, 24 per cent were of minority ethnic

    origin; this proportion was 14 per cent among part-time entrants.

    12d. Twelve per cent came from low-participation neighbourhoods, compared to

    16 per cent of those studying part-time.

    11 Total entrant headcounts are based on all UK- and EU-domiciled entrants registered at English HEIs, studying full- or part-time and commencing any undergraduate programme of study. This includes, among others: foundation degrees, HNDs and undergraduate certificates or diplomas.

    12 A low-participation neighbourhood is defined as the bottom quintile (quintile 1) from HEFCE’s Participation

    of Local Areas (POLAR2) classification. For more information see www.hefce.ac.uk/widen/polar

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