A practical route to your vocation

Want a course with definite 'real world' applications? Then enrol in a two-year foundation degree, says Tim Walker
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The Independent Online

Now, there is a form of degree that puts you into the workplace as part of your course of study; that gives you practical, vocational experience, rather than weighing you down with academic work; and that leads you directly into employment, with the same, if not better, career prospects than your peers with full honours degrees. And all in only two years. It's the Government's higher education brainchild - a foundation degree.

Developed by universities in tandem with further education colleges and employers, foundation degrees are part of a wider drive towards giving vocational training the same high profile as university education. Universities give accreditation (and academic kudos) to the courses, which are run by the colleges and their partner employers. Not only can the companies involved provide students with the necessary onsite training and work experience, they can also advise the colleges on how best to meet their needs as employers, essentially generating their own ideal workforce. Among those companies already involved in the foundation degree scheme are BMW, Microsoft and the chemicals group BASF.

And the breadth of choice is vast. From engineering to teaching to catering, there are foundation degrees to suit anyone who thought that a degree had no "real world" applications. So far, the most popular foundation degrees are those associated with the public sector, for example, in social work, education and policing. IT courses are, perhaps unsurprisingly, becoming very popular, and many of the foundation degrees focus on IT management and business. For those who are specifically put off by the thought of seeing rather too much of the inside of a library, there are foundation degrees in agriculture and sports management.

As BMW's involvement might suggest, there are foundation degrees in automotive engineering, but also in motorsport, aeronautical and railway engineering, as well as ship technology and naval architecture. And a foundation degree can also be of use to the self-employed, helping artisans and other small business ventures to develop industry savvy.

The UCAS website has all the information you need to apply for a full- or part-time foundation degree, and many of the courses will have Clearing places available.

'You get to put theory into practice'

Liwun Wan, 21, is doing a foundation degree in textile design at Hull College. After taking an NVQ in arts and design, she decided that a foundation degree was the best way to improve her employability. As part of the course, she has done work experience with Skopos, a fabric design and manufacturing firm.

When I completed the NVQ, I didn't feel quite ready to embark on a three-year degree, and the foundation degree was ideal because I would gain a lot of work experience. The content of the course is really rewarding. As well as learning the theory, with the foundation degree you get the chance to put theory into practice. The work experience part of the programme is not restricted to our work at a company designing textiles, the professional input involves workshops with teachers and guest lectures from professionals in the industry. Skopos was a truly educative experience. I was given the chance to really digest the techniques taught in the classroom. The standard at Skopos was especially high. Apart from the work experience, which is essential to get a head start in any industry, you shouldn't neglect the opportunity to establish contacts. I am even thinking of going back to Skopos to get more work experience.