Hello readers, welcome back to the blog! In my first of hopefully many installments of the ‘ACE360 quarterly insights’ series, I discuss the differences between HE and FE (Higher Education and Further Education), and the meaningful distinctions to make when ensuring Apprentice success. Not only is this topic relevant, but it highlights our current commitment to assisting Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), and guiding them in the changing and unique role that they play within the sector – something we enjoyed doing more of at the recent Westminster Employment Forum and look forward to at the upcoming UVAC conference.

As an overview, this blog is going to turn the spotlight onto HEIs, and the importance of understanding the vast difference between FE and HE. I’ve spent the last 8 months working alongside universities and meeting with them to understand what they’re experiencing firsthand.

It was apparent that they were all ‘in the same boat’ with the same issues, pain points and questions. These individuals are experts in their field but were frustrated with the lack of clarity given. The industry needs to understand the damaging impact of shoehorning HEIs into the FE world, as it’s prudent to understand that what is idealistic, doesn’t always equate to what works in practice. With this understanding, there needs to be a different approach and a tailor-made solution to support HEI needs. So, with that, let’s first provide some context and define what HE is, what FE is, and identify what some of the profound differences are between FE and HE:

What is FE (Further Education)?

According to source, ‘the FE sector is a large, wide-ranging and significant pillar of the education sector offering a range of education and training opportunities, including technical, academic and recreational courses.’

Popular with individuals who choose to opt for a different route into vocation, rather than through studying a university course, the FE sector is what is typically associated with Apprenticeships.

What Is HE (Higher Education)?

According to source, ‘Higher education is tertiary education leading to award of an academic degree. Higher education, also called post-secondary education, third-level or tertiary education, is an optional final stage of final learning that occurs after completion of secondary education.’

Not often associated with apprenticeships, the FE sector has recently welcomed a list of programmes to include apprenticeship-based models to a sector not usually associated with ‘hands-on learning’.

What’s the difference between HE and FE?

Well, FE providers (training providers and colleges) have a strong infrastructure in place to receive support from the likes of Ofqual, ESFA and ifATE. Do any of these exclusively focus on integrated degrees? The main question is, who do HEIs turn to? It’s evident from my conversations with individuals from the HE industry they’re craving a qualified model to ensure they’re compliant. With this in mind, the move to integrated degrees provides an even bigger demand for the industry to become more coherent. It’s common practice now to see the hire of Ofsted and ESFA specialists from FE to come into these institutions.

Naturally, FE insights have unintentionally taken dominance in driving pathways in which HEIs have had no other option but to follow. Again, this echoes one of my first points around HEIs being ‘shoehorned into the FE world’, due to the lack of support and resources given to HEIs. The benefit would lie more in having an established body/organisation who understand and have HEIs’ intentions at the heart of what they do. So, to put it bluntly, it appears that the FE sector has established foundations in which they can rely on to ensure apprentice success. But what about HEIs?

Moving forward there needs to be a fusion between the two sectors to ensure the vast array of needs – some closely aligned, and some subtly different but very important nonetheless – are met.

In the independently published report by OfS, it was highlighted how HEIs have ‘limited’ evidence showing their quality process when managing degree apprenticeships. The report even goes on to ask “how FE do we want to become?”. Shouldn’t the question be, ‘Why are HEIs being treated like FE providers?’

An obvious dominating factor from FE is how we’re now seeing FE terms trickling through to the HE world. This is caused by HEIs yearning for clarity that they’re now relying on FE as a source of guidance. We at ACE360 think they deserve it.

The reality is there’s an underlying issue around the support and guidance that the HE world receives – it needs to be given a strong infrastructure to ensure it’s sustainable. Perhaps the likes of UVAC who have created a space for HEIs to drive change unitedly provides hope that the HE world will be listened to. Now, it feels as though there is a clash between FE and HE when there needs to be harmony – complementing each other but respecting their broad differences.

Thank you for reading the first installment of the ‘ACE360 Quarterly Insights’ series. If anything in this piece has piqued your interest, don’t hesitate to contact us by clicking here.

Best Wishes,
Megan Heeley
Account Manager
ACE360
The Federation For Industry Sector Skills & Standards

About ACE360

ACE360, created by The Federation for Industry Sector Skills & Standards, is the most cost-effective apprenticeship management solution on the market designed to streamline data handling processes for HEIs, training providers, end point assessment organisations and employers with a secure, cloud-based apprenticeship progress monitoring and end point assessment solution.

Interested in reading our latest bit of research that we conducted into the Higher Education Apprenticeship Landscape? Click here to download the report!