The Further Education sector supports widening access to participation in Higher Education

The Further Education sector supports widening access to participation in Higher Education
October, 2014
A number of interactive exhibitions highlighting the range of Foundation Degrees, Higher Level Apprenticeships and Higher National Diploma courses offered by the FE sector were on display. The exhibitions included courses from right across the priority skill sectors, namely, ICT, financial services, advanced manufacturing, life and health sciences and creative industries & digital media.

Staff and students from South West College were on hand to showcase elements of the Foundation Degree in Engineering – Wind Turbine Technology, along with the support of Clive Newell from the Global Wind Alliance, whom the college works with on the design of this Foundation Degree.

Robin Swann, MLA and Chair of the Employment and Learning Committee said: “On behalf of the Committee I would like to take this opportunity to thank the students and staff from our local colleges for attending today’s event and for showcasing the range, the breadth and superior level of Further Education (FE) courses available.

“The Committee is very supportive of the Department for Employment and Learning’s ‘Widening Participation Strategy’ and as such we are keen to promote the opportunities available through Further Education Colleges for those students wishing to continue towards Higher Education courses and qualifications.

“It is crucial that we ensure that all prospective students are provided with a fair and equal path towards Higher Education. Sometimes, the most able people are the least likely to participate in education and we must do all we can to encourage, promote and support their access to and involvement in Higher Education. Today’s event is an important step in highlighting the opportunities that exist in Further Education and my Committee was delighted to be involved. We look forward to working with the FE sector to promote and support future initiatives geared towards increasing participation.
Colleges Northern Ireland, the representative body for the six regional FE colleges organised the event.  Gerry Campbell, the Chief Executive said:

“The FE sector offers an alternative route to obtaining a third level education.  The sector supports over 11,000 Higher Education students annually and offers them the opportunity to progress on an undergraduate degree – in most cases this means potential progression on to the second year of such a course. In terms of success – our statistics are impressive - 37% of our higher education students are from the most deprived areas in NI and despite this we rate of 95% for retention and 91% for achievement”.

The event concluded with a question and answer panel whereby the event compere – Aidan Browne, from Belfast Metropolitan College, challenged six students (one from each College) as to why they chose to study at a FE college. Samantha Kirkpatrick from South West College shared her experience of doing the Foundation Degree in Engineering – Wind Turbine Technology, which allowed her to study and gain experience at the same time. Samantha has now progressed to the BEng Hons Degree in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at the University of Ulster.