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Study buddies? Competition and collaboration between higher education and further education

This report, supported by the Further Education Trust for Leadership, examines the relationship between further education (FE) and higher education (HE) and assesses how the two sectors cooperate and compete. It finds that whilst there are considerable opportunities for and benefits to collaboration between colleges and universities, unfair and ineffective competition is doing more harm than good.

The Government has recently laid out plans designed to instil parity between higher and further education, a focus which has been largely welcomed by tertiary education leaders. However, concerns have been raised that FE and HE will be pitted against each other, with provision overlapping in areas of high competition and institutions showing reduced willingness to work together to deliver on the educational and skills needs of local areas.

This research draws on the views of more than 20 FE principals and university vice-chancellors and explores the competitive and collaborative relationships between HE and FE institutions, seeking to understand what problems there are and what works well. The views expressed indicate that collaboration between colleges and universities can aid the creation of a more coherent education system, improve progression routes for students and help institutions operate more efficiently and effectively. However, to a significant extent, these benefits have not been realised due to unproductive and excessively aggressive competition between universities and colleges.

The report issues recommendations to policymakers and sector leaders, with a particular focus on ensuring a clear delineation of roles within tertiary education and maximising opportunities for collaboration.

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