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HEFCE report highlights growth of foundation degrees

According to a new report, foundation degrees, which were introduced six years ago as a two-year qualification designed to supply people with the skills that employers need, are now taught widely within universities and colleges.

The report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), entitled 'Foundation degrees: key statistics 2001-02 to 2006-07' (HEFCE 2007/03), shows that 83 universities and 255 further education colleges now offer foundation degrees.

Since their first year in 2001-02, the number of foundation degree students has grown from 4,300 to almost 61,000 in 2006-07.

In 2004-05 - the most recent year with full statistics about the student population - 46 per cent were taught in higher education institutions and 54 per cent in further education colleges.

Of the students on foundation degree courses in 2004-05, 57 per cent were female and 64 per cent were aged 21 or over when they started their course.

The report says foundation degrees have attracted students from a wide range of backgrounds: the proportion of entrants from areas with low participation in higher education is greater than generally found on undergraduate programmes.

Professor David Eastwood, chief executive of HEFCE, said: "This report gives us, for the first time, a broad picture of the growth of foundation degrees in this country and provides useful statistics on the profile and progress of students pursuing these innovative programmes of study.

"The report, which we intend to update annually, provides vital evidence for policy developments in the areas of employer engagement and widening access as we seek to develop the highly skilled workforce envisaged in the Leitch Report. We now have a much better understanding of the achievements and challenges facing higher education institutions as we look to develop provision, in partnership with employers, for increasing numbers of young people in higher education as well as older people already in the workplace.

"There are encouraging signs of growth in part-time provision linked to workforce development that is supported by employers in various ways - ranging from funding to study leave - but much more needs to be done. We are taking this forward through our employer engagement strategy, of which the development of foundation degrees is an essential component.

"The report provides clear evidence that foundation degrees are attracting people into higher education from a broader range of backgrounds. It is also encouraging that we can predict continued growth from these data, to around 80,000 students by 2010-11, on the basis of current performance. Taking account of the additional student numbers to be allocated by HEFCE for 2007-08 and the 741 new foundation degrees known to be in various stages of planning for introduction next year, there are grounds for optimism that student recruitment will reach 100,000 by 2010-11."

Foundation degrees were set up by HEFCE with the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) in 2001-02, as a new two-year higher education qualification. They aim to give people the intermediate technical and professional skills that are in demand from employers, and to provide more flexible and accessible ways of studying.

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