A state sixth-form college is offering degree courses at less than half the cost of a traditional university education.
As a result, Peter Symonds College in Winchester, Hampshire, has seen the number of students opting to study degrees more than quadruple in the past four years.
Its courses, which cost £3,950 a year, have seen a sharp increase in popularity since the introduction of fees of up to £9,000 a year in the university sector.
Now a growing number of sixth-form colleges are planning to follow suit – posing a challenge to the UK’s universities.
The Government’s pledge to maintain funding for education does not cover provision for the over-16s and, as a result, many sixth-form colleges have had to reduce staff, increase class sizes and review A-level subject options.
Around a dozen of the country’s 93 sixth-form colleges have already dipped their toes in the water of funding degree courses – although Peter Symonds is by far the largest provider – with the cash from the fees then used to offset cuts.
Peter Symonds’ programme will be highlighted in a pamphlet published by the Higher Education Policy Institute think-tank next month, which will call on universities to go into greater detail about how they spend their students’ fees.
Writing in the pamphlet, Alex Day, director of adult education at Peter Symonds, says: “If universities have been unable to offer lower fees in the new funding regime then it begs the question: is it possible to deliver good-quality higher education at a lower cost? The answer to this question is: yes.”
She acknowledges that it is not possible to offer higher-cost courses such as engineering or bioscience – but the college does offer a range of subjects at degree level, including sports and sports injury treatment plus many arts-based courses which can be taught in a standard classroom setting.
James Kewin of the Sixth-Form Colleges Association said: “More and more sixth-form colleges are looking at degree provision.
“They are bringing in income at a time of major cuts for the sector.”