Cementing progression pathways through partnerships
The University of South Wales (USW) is committed to lifelong learning. 43% of their student body is aged over 25 and 38% study on a part-time basis. The university has achieved this remarkable feat by developing strong links with local further education colleges and working with them to provide high quality and industry-relevant ‘HE in FE’ for students who may be unable to move to university, possibly due to work, family or caring commitments.
It builds on a programme that was developed initially through the Universities Heads of the Valleys Institute (UHOVI) to help students to enter or resume higher education study locally in a way that suits their needs. USW now partners with five FE colleges across south east Wales to deliver industry-relevant courses across a range of subjects. Student number planning is done jointly. The partners are also working to ensure that colleges and faculty offer courses which are relevant to the industries within their locality, aimed at people already in employment or preparing for work. The programme currently covers around 3,000 students across the five colleges. It has helped to improve the skills of local workforces and helped many disadvantaged students access higher education.
One of the major barriers that USW had to overcome was the lack of information and guidance for prospective students and insufficiently clear routes for progression and development. To tackle this, the university employed dedicated progression officers who were trained to understand and translate the different steps between HE, FE and lower-level study routes. The university now ensures that when students sign up to a course they understand where it can lead – for example, whether a financial course can lead to an accountancy qualification or whether an Animal Health foundation degree can lead to a BSc in Animal Management. This approach means students begin their study with realistic expectations of where the course can lead. They have also helped the university and partner colleges understand student concerns and potential barriers to engagement with higher education.