Further Education Colleges in Higher Education

There is no real equivalent in the UK of the community colleges and TAFE colleges that make up such an important part of higher education in the US, Canada and Australia. The bulk of degree learning is done within the UK university sector. However, that is not the whole story since there are a large number of non-university colleges within the state sector offering a huge range of courses. One of the most extensive networks of such colleges comes under the generic title of FE Colleges.

There is something in the region of 600 FE colleges in the UK and they serve a variety of functions and come under a range of different names. However, they have certain things in common and typically, a state-sector FE College represents the following:

  • Very broad range of courses, often from basic skills up to high levels, sometimes including degree-level
  • A strong vocational element ­ many students are part-time and in full time employment or on work-release courses
  • A local emphasis ­ the majority of students will live locally (the opposite is true within the university system). Community links are usually strong
  • High average age of students ­ many are adults who have returned to education to improve their work prospects (although there are also school leavers)
  • A programmatic approach to courses ­ there is no actual FE ‘curriculum’ and students tend to study a variety of individual subjects according to their aims
  • Lower average tuition fees than in UK universities ­ an average of around £3500 to £4000 per annum
  • Availability of numerous non-vocational courses for hobbies and leisure

There is some private sector FE provision and many of these colleges are accredited ­ accreditation is through the British Council for Independent Further and Higher Education. For more information you should consult their website - www.the-bac.org Responsibility for higher education in the UK is regionally organized: for information within each region, try the following:

England - The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) - www.dfes.gov.uk

Wales - The National Assembly Training and Education Department (NATED) - www.learning.wales.gov.uk

Scotland - The Scottish Executive Education Department (SEED) - www.scotland.gov.uk

Northern Ireland - The Department of Education in Northern Ireland (DENI) - www.deni.gov.uk

The availability of English language courses may be of particular interest to international students aiming to continue with higher education in the UK, and there are also access courses available in many FE colleges. These enable students over the age of 21 without the necessary UK university entrance qualifications, to obtain a qualification that will take them into the university system. They can usually be studied full or part time and in conjunction with other courses (for instance, an English language course). For more information on this, take a look at www.ucas.ac.uk/access/


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