Foundation degree: 'It's a blend of academic and work-based learning'

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The Independent Online

Entry requirements

There are no set entry requirements for all foundation degrees in terms of formal qualifications; the university or college offering the course will advise on your eligibility. Appropriate work experience may be taken into account, but check with the institution as some courses have specific requirements.

Content

For many students, leaving school after finishing your GCSEs or A-levels and heading into either higher education or the world of work can seem daunting. What sometimes looks like a bewildering array of choice can make it difficult to choose what is best.

However, if you have decided that going on to study is for you, it is worth considering not only your subject of choice but also your future career. Designed in partnership with employers, foundation degrees blend academic and work-based learning, equipping students with the knowledge, understanding and skills relevant to employment.

A typical foundation degree course lasts two years, is equal to the first two years of an honours degree and with further study can actually be converted into an honours degree. Many courses have flexible teaching arrangements involving part-time or evening attendance at college, or even the opportunity to learn online.

Many foundation degrees offer work-based learning as part of their course content. By integrating theory with practice (work experience allows students to deal with workplace and business problems and issues, undertake contracted pieces of work and have workplace mentors), these work placements equip students with the skills relevant to employment.

Assessment

This will differ for each course, but could involve both written and online examinations and workplace assessment. Students are assessed on their ability to apply their learning in the workplace.

What next?

Employers are also heavily involved in foundation degrees. As they are involved in designing and delivering courses, businesses can take on recruits with proven skills in their line of work. Many employers, such as Rolls-Royce, Norwich Union, BMW, Airbus and Holiday Inn, have taken on foundation degree graduates and have noticed their positive influence on productivity. It works for students too: by developing the skills employers need for their business they boost their employability and develop the technical knowledge and skills that are required for a successful and rewarding career in the future.

There is also the option to go on and do further study. In broad terms, a student could opt for an honours degree, an ordinary degree, a postgraduate course or a professional qualification.

Some students decide to go for something different: travelling is an option as a break from education, or a chance to have a breather and decide what to do next; voluntary work appeals to some; self-employment is a difficult but potentially rewarding route; and further work experience could be a great stepping stone to a successful career.

Fiona Smille, 24 has recently completed a foundation degree in graphic design at the Norwich School of Art and Design

The incentive of undertaking a degree that included real-life graphic design projects, was work-specific and would provide me with skills needed for the workplace, was really important for me. I'm now really confident that I can develop a successful career in advertising and marketing for the design industry.

DID YOU KNOW?

The foundation degree is the first new higher-education qualification in 25 years! Established back in 2001, they are an increasingly popular option for young people looking to get a head start in their careers, with over 60,000 students studying them in 2006-07.

There are a huge variety of courses available in subjects including aeronautical engineering, financial services, professional photography, business management, teaching, social care and travel and tourism.

WEB WATCH

Foundation Degree Forward

Provides comprehensive background information and specific information for prospective students and employers, including case studies

www.fdf.ac.uk

Prospects

Information to help students think about the personal value of a foundation degree

www.prospects.ac.uk/links/yourfoundation

Ucas

An introduction to foundation degrees, with examples of why employers value the qualification

develop.ucas.com/FDCourseSearch/About.htm

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