The old FE/HE relationship ...

At a 'national' event one was co-leading last weekend I bumped into someone from 'the dim past'.

Over coffee, we recalled how both of us, in our respective further education colleges had to endure the relationship with a local University.

If this University was good at teaching computing; it may have had a ring of justification. But the issue was the opposite, in a relationship imposed by the senior exec of all local organisations in a consortium. Suddenly the 'Computing' faculty of the incumbent university found that whilst they had to service this widening participation partnership they were also in line for exposure over the quality of their teaching.

We both had a torrid time, their fight lasted for a few short bouts, mine, over a period of five years was the 'unpublished' reason I started looking for work elsewhere. Unhappy at both the treatment and lack of support from local and corporate management.

For the other incumbent, the fight was never there, not a critique, I don't think they are that type of soul. They recalled with ironic pleasure that their manager took off of them the management of the HE programme to discover that they were 'right' and that the manager was getting the same flack.

In my world, sitting in a silo in another further education college, maybe stupidly I kept fighting against the tide of dual sided attrition.

Here, we had a large number of students doing very well, the majority all from our level three programmes. All keen to take one from our four programmes, which worked in symbiotic pairs:
  • Computer Systems Networking &
  • Modern Telecommunications
  • Software Development &
  • Web Development 
All designed to fit with final year degrees and all encouraged (as per agreement) to move to the partner university.

From the first year of delivery (2001), when it was still a HND with top up until I left FE in 2008 with a Foundation Degree and direct final year entry. The majority of students complained that their final year experience was substantially lower value than their first two years. Worse, when selecting research projects, many of their academics could not cope with the technical level of what they were trying to attempt (especially in Networking and Telecommunications).

I often hear an academic mantra of research and scholarship, on the whole the students were 'ok' at this, happy to admit that they were not the paragon of academic perfection. Yet, maybe a sign of the standards of the university concerned, many ex-students were leaving with many 2:1's and some 1sts.

Not forgetting those who decided to exit with their HND/FDSc, we found that the majority were able to find work without difficulty (lets be fair, times were different). But, this was in part due to their completion of other vendor certification whilst on their programme. So, tooled with a BSc or HND/FDSc and certification from all/some of the array offered by Cisco, Microsoft and CompTIA. We knew that many students could aquire careers in the industry that wanted them with 'polytechnic' skills.

In the end, the attrition and supposition imposed by the HE provider, jealous and fearful of what was being done stretched the relationship to the point where I snapped. Fortunately this was not a long term negative as this encouraged me to seek pastures new. But rather than 'leap', instead look for somewhere that fitted with me.

There are many HE/FE partnerships out there doing a great job, I am an external on at least one. But for those doing an excellent job, there are many more where the University alas views their local further education college with undeserved contempt.



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