On the 20th September 2019, members of the Foundation Year Network came together to discuss ‘Assessing the value of integrated degrees with Foundation Year in context: institutional level responses to Augar’.
As most readers of this blog will be aware, the Augar Report recommends that funding is removed from level 0 foundation years, and that Access to Higher Education (HE) Diplomas become the standard entry pathway for those without A-Levels or equivalent qualifications. It is important to note that over the past 5-6 years, there has been a significant expansion in the number of students on foundation years, but there has been a decline in those studying Access to HE Diplomas.
We were joined by Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the Office for Students. He outlined some of the current policy landscape, and set us a number of challenges to respond to as a network of Foundation Year practitioners.
These included: considerations of value for money, whether foundation years deliver choice and flexibility for students, and if foundation years genuinely build skills for those who otherwise would not reach Higher Education. We were urged, as providers, to demonstrate how and why what we were doing was needed, and how we can collaborate across the sector in future.
We then heard 4-minute ‘elevator’ pitches from a variety of institutions around the distinctive features of their foundation years, and some themes emerged from these. One of the most important themes, which was common to all foundation years represented, was summed up by the University of Lincoln: “If you want to learn to swim the Channel, learn in the sea, not a swimming pool”. Foundation years are seen by both staff and students as an important extended induction into university life and offers a mode of studying that other pathways cannot provide. Foundation Year students are immersed in university workloads, assessments, and expectations, and are ready to face them in year one. Crucially, they are also studying on campus, so are inducted into student life and are part of the university from day one.
The use of foundation years as a vehicle for widening participation was also addressed. Many presenters focused on how their foundation years provide an important pathway into HE for non-traditional students, including: mature students, students with disabilities, or students who needed to study locally, e.g. due to caring responsibilities. For many of these students, foundation years may be the only possible option for accessing HE.
In addition, a number of science foundation years demonstrated how their curricula help students to ‘thrive not just survive’ by using an efficient and ‘whole programme’ approach to curriculum planning, where key concepts can be taught across modules. This enables students to comprehend the pace and rhythm of HE study without having to access two years’ worth of A-Level content.
Another important point for discussion was that the foundation years are not ‘back doors’ into the institution for which they’re designed. Candidates entering many foundation years have to ‘target those who have not had the opportunity to achieve rather than those who have failed to achieve’
Chris Millward’s ‘take home messages’ (as he was running to catch his train), were for us to consider in particular the role of FYs in relation to mature students, flexible delivery, and potential opportunities to work in partnership with colleges. This prompted some lengthy discussion in the room about the relationship between Foundation Years and Access courses. It was agreed that space needs to be made for more conversation and collaboration between providers, but this collaboration would undoubtedly be more productive if it was not taking place in the shadow of a threat of funding removal for one area of the sector. This would mean that conversations could be framed by a shared mission of improving educational opportunities for learners from all backgrounds.
We would love to hear from practitioners from other foundation years as to the particular value of your own programme. Do the themes which emerge chime with those raised already? Or are there other distinctive and special values which we should be considering as a practitioner network?
Thanks again to Jan O’Driscoll and the University of Chester for hosting the workshop.
Camilla Priede, Rachel Dunn & Willy Kitchen.