With five colleges in England now having Foundation Degree Awarding Powers and many more having partnerships with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), there are increasing opportunities to become involved in teaching on degree level programmes. HE provision delivered within FE is generally regarded as being complementary to, rather than competitive with university degree programmes, offering more flexible, local and cheaper opportunities for students to gain Foundation degrees and other higher level qualifications.
What are the differences between teaching at a university and teaching on an HE programme in an FE context?
- One main aim of HE provision delivered within FE is to provide a smooth transition for learners moving from level 3 to level 4 and above
- Widening participation is another key focus. Courses are designed so as to give "non-traditional" learners opportunities to succeed, e.g. adult learners with working, caring or childcare responsibilities who need more flexible, or part-time programmes.
- FE providers often have stronger links with employers, fitting in with learners' career aspirations.
- Colleges may be more physically accessible to many students, providing a local and familiar environment in which to study.
- There can be more personalised support available with e.g. study skills
- Classes are generally smaller with more intensive teaching patterns, meaning that staff get to spend more time with individual students.
- Although there may be less time for FE staff to carry out research than their HE colleagues, strong links with HEIs mean that there are opportunities for college lecturers to undertake higher level study at Masters level and above.
- A final, more general aim is to build students' confidence, enabling them to achieve higher level qualifications without compromising academic standards.
5 tips for teachers embarking on HE teaching within FE:
1. Actively involve students in their learning. Lectures have their place, however flip learning and interactive teaching will provide far more effective learning strategies. See Eric Mazur's writing and video clips for more on this.
2. Prepare resources to support learners with the technicality of referencing. Many students may have had a long gap since their last period of study, or may be completely new to this.
3. Create communities of practice by e.g. developing study groups outside taught hours, encouraging links with colleagues and employers. Several programmes at Plymouth University now require students to set up online accounts using platforms such as Twitter, where learners create professional identities in order to forge networks to support their studies.
4. Make sure your teaching is relevant to learners' vocational or academic aspirations, addressing their future as well as present needs.
5. In addition to facing a heavier assessment load, you may be required to write modules, secure course approval, attend moderation or standardisation meetings and present students' work at academic boards. Seek support from other colleagues with this and make contact with staff at the relevant HEI. Take every opportunity to attend staff development events for HE in order to develop the skills you need.
Teaching HE in FE can be immensely rewarding in terms of both personal and professional development. The challenges may be distinct from those found more broadly within FE, however the underlying ethos is the same: to enable under-represented groups to achieve academic success.