Two-year foundation degrees are proving a hit with students. Tim Walker reports on the success stories

Bad news for those lofty university graduates who love to lord it over lowly vocational training courses. Two-year foundation degrees, one of the Government's educational brainchildren, are proving more popular with some employers than full honours degrees.

Bad news for those lofty university graduates who love to lord it over lowly vocational training courses. Two-year foundation degrees, one of the Government's educational brainchildren, are proving more popular with some employers than full honours degrees.

Most foundation degrees are run by a triumvirate partnership of university, further education college and employer. The universities bring accreditation and academic kudos; the colleges are equipped to provide the vocational teaching that is the focus of a foundation; the companies supply onsite training and work experience, while advising educational institutions how to meet their needs as employers.

Derek Longhurst is the director of Foundation Degree Forward, a national body established by the Government to monitor and promote the degree. He says: "The debate has moved from simply finding students placements with employers to designing programmes where the work experience becomes integral to both the employers' needs and the students' training."

This has resulted in some extremely successful partnerships. Senior scientists from chemicals group BASF helped to develop the chemical technology foundation degree at Teesside University, while Sheffield Hallam University's two-year degrees in IT-based subjects are accredited by Microsoft. BMW was instrumental in designing the foundation in automotive engineering at Coventry's City College. Companies often find that graduates of foundation degrees are more work-ready than many honours graduates - while the foundation students only reach the academic level of second-year honours graduates, their practical training prepares them more thoroughly for the job in hand.

If engines get you going, then Coventry University (which also accredits the BMW-driven course at City College) runs a foundation degree in motorsport engineering at Warwickshire College. Brooklands College teaches the same course, accredited by Kingston University. For jetsetters, Kingston's aircraft engineering foundation has been highly successful, and Farnborough College in Hampshire offers a two-year aeronautical engineering degree. For train-setters, Sheffield Hallam runs a foundation in railway engineering. If planes, trains and automobiles don't float your boat, then maybe ship technology and naval architecture, offered by Plymouth College, will.

The most popular foundation degrees have been those associated with the public sector, particularly education, health and policing. Early years foundation degrees are available nationwide: South Bank University accredits the courses at colleges in Kensington, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark; Bath Spa University oversees those in Bath, Swindon and Bristol; Teesside University takes in Darlington, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool Colleges. The list goes on. Teaching assistants can get two-year foundations from colleges in Burton, Leek, Newcastle under Lyme, Stoke on Trent, Tamworth, Shrewsbury and Stafford - all under the aegis of the University of Staffordshire. Aspiring social workers hoping to develop their skills can study health and social care at colleges in Bournemouth, Yeovil, Sunderland, Bedford, Norwich and Colchester, among others. Plymouth University offers a foundation in public services (policing) at City of Bristol College, and is planning to introduce the same course at Cornwall College, Penwith College and Truro.

Foundations in computing are also growing in popularity, and many are focused explicitly on IT's business applications: Kingston University runs a foundation in IT for e-business at Carshalton, Richmond, Merton, South Thames, West Thames and Kingston colleges; and Bournemouth University accredits business IT at Bournemouth and Poole College, and University Centre, Yeovil. For the creative computer nut, there's interactive games production at the London Institute, or new media design at Manchester's City, Hopwood Hall and Tameside Colleges.

Among the countless management courses available are those designed to help students to run small businesses. Outdoor types might be interested in agriculture and rural business development at Cornwall College, fisheries management at Hadlow College, or golf course management at Cannington College. There are options too for the self-employed. Artists, for example, can develop industry savvy with fine art practice at Cornwall College or Newcastle College, or with the other similar foundations being planned by Luton University and the University of Wales.

The two-year foundation degree offers an attractive compromise: it supplies more academic cachet than a vocational course, and more on-the-job experience than a conventional honours degree. It's like having your cake and eating it. Incidentally, if you like a bit of cake, Cornwall College has a foundation in culinary arts - just a thought.

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