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  • Summary
  • Introduction
  • Sources and definitions
  • Growth in foundation degree provision
  • Programme characteristics
  • Student attributes
  • Student feedback on the quality of programmes
  • Progression through foundation degree programmes
  • Progression from foundation to honours degree programmes
  • After qualifying: employment outcomes
  • Support from employers
  • Conclusions and policy implications
  • References
  • List of abbreviations
  • Annex A: Reconciliation of aggregate and individual data

Executive summary


1.   This document updates HEFCE report 2007/03 describing the characteristics of foundation degree programmes. The attributes, progression, achievement, attitudes and post-qualification outcomes of students on those programmes and the support they received from their employers are also presented.

Key points

2.   HEIs and FECs have reported that nearly 72,000 students were registered, or were expected to register, on foundation degree programmes in 2007-08. Over 40,000 entrants were reported for 2007-08 compared to 34,000 in 2006-07 and, even with no more growth in entrants, we would expect total student numbers to rise to about 97,000 before 2010 as current cohorts move through their foundation degree programmes.

3.   This detailed picture of foundation degree provision confirms the one reported previously based on the analysis of cohorts one year earlier. Because of the year-on-year expansion of foundation degree provision, these new results are based on larger numbers and are correspondingly more reliable.

Selected results

4.   Here we set out a small selection of this report's results. In all cases the results refer to the most recent data available. Further details can be found in the main sections of the report.

Characteristics of foundation degree programmes

5.   For home entrants to programmes in the academic year 2005-06 we found:

  • 62 per cent studied full-time
  • 44 per cent were taught wholly or partly at higher education institutions (HEIs) and 56 per cent wholly at further education colleges (FECs)
  • almost half were studying the three most common subjects: education, business and art and design
  • 92 per cent of full-time students were on programmes of two years or shorter
  • 70 per cent of part-time students were on programmes of three years or shorter and 27 per cent were on programmes of two years or shorter
  • distance learning was the main means of study for 16 per cent of part-time students.
Student attributes

6.   For home entrants to programmes in the academic year 2005-06 we found:

  • 57 per cent were female
  • 65 per cent were aged 21 or over when they started their course.
Highest qualification on entry

7.   We can only estimate the proportion of foundation degree students with A-levels at between 11 and 33 per cent, with the upper end of the range being the more likely. Seventeen per cent entered with higher education qualifications.

Student feedback on the quality of programmes

8.   Seventy-six per cent of students in their final year, or a significant way through their course, and who responded to the 2007 National Student Survey, agreed with the statement, 'overall, I am satisfied with the quality of the course'.

9.   Fifty-six per cent agreed with the statement, 'the course is well organised and is running smoothly'. This is an increase from 2006, in part reflecting the increased proportion of relatively well-established programmes.

Progression through foundation degree programmes for students registered at an HEI

10.   Our analysis of students' progression through their foundation degree courses was based on students who studied programmes following a standard academic year and of specific expected length, and who were registered at HEIs.

11.   For entrants in 2004-05 following a full-time, two-year programme, 56 per cent received a higher education (HE) award by 2005-06. Almost all of these were foundation degree awards. A further 23 per cent were still studying at HE level, mostly for a foundation degree.

12.   For part-time students on three-year courses who entered in 2003-04, slightly lower proportions of students had received an HE qualification (51 per cent) and 28 per cent were still studying at HE level in 2005-06

Progression from foundation to honours degree programmes for students registered at an HEI

13.   Over half (54 per cent) of the students registered at an HEI who qualified with a foundation degree in 2004-05 went on to study an honours degree in 2005-06.

14.   Most students continued their studies registered at the same HEI and of these only 3 per cent were effectively 'starting again' by entering at the beginning of the programme. Eighty-eight per cent of students going on to honours courses at the same HEI were credited with the equivalent of full-time study for two years on an honours degree programme. For the minority of qualifiers who changed institution, 14 per cent entered at the beginning of the new programme, while 60 per cent were credited with the full two years of study or more.

15.   Of those foundation degree qualifiers registered at an HEI who went into the final year of an honours programme in 2005-06, 76 per cent were reported as graduating in that year.

After qualifying: employment outcomes

16.   Information on employment outcomes six months after qualifying is based on all the students who qualified with foundation degrees at HEIs in 2005-06 and responded to the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey. We found:

  1. Nearly half of the foundation degree qualifiers in employment were in graduate jobs, with about 90 per cent stating 'positive' reasons for taking the job.
  2. Apart from male qualifiers from part-time study, salary levels were low. The median pro rata salary was typically £15,000 per year for full-time male and both full- and part-time female qualifiers.

17.   The longitudinal DLHE survey taken three and a half years after qualifying provided information on qualifiers from 2002-03, typically those who qualified from the very first pilot foundation degree programmes. This showed that after three and a half years the proportion of those in employment was 87 per cent compared to 62 per cent after six months. Of those in employment after three and a half years, 54 per cent were in graduate jobs, compared to 38 per cent six months after qualifying.

Employer support for part-time students

18.   From the DLHE survey we found that most 2005-06 qualifiers from part-time study (80 per cent) at HEIs had some support from their employers, such as study leave, but only 36 per cent received any financial support. From the student records we can estimate that about one in four part-time students at HEIs and FECs have their fee paid by their employers.

Conclusions and policy implications

19.   These results further support the conclusions and policy implications set out the first set of key statistics reported last year (HEFCE 2007/03).

Growth of foundation degree provision

20.    he growth in the number of students on foundation degree programmes continued for 2007-08 with an increase of 6,500 entrants, somewhat smaller than for the previous year. It is not certain whether this reduced growth rate is real or due to inaccuracies in the estimates of entrant numbers but, whatever the reason, it means we have no clear trend from which to extrapolate future student numbers. However, even if there were no further increases in the numbers of entrants, we would expect total student numbers to rise to about 97,000 before 2010. The government target of 100,000 students by 2010 should be met even if the future growth in numbers of students were to fall from over 11,000 to 8,000 per annum.

21.   There have been two developments that could impact on the numbers of students on foundation degree programmes in future. Firstly, some further education colleges may be given powers to award foundation degrees. This may reduce the time it takes to introduce new programmes. Secondly, government announced its intention to stop providing funds for students with higher education qualification from studying towards equivalent or lower qualifications (ELQs), but with an exemption for students on foundation degree programmes. In 2005-06 nearly one in four entrants to part-time foundation degree programmes had an HE qualification, so these programmes are already providing opportunities for those with HE qualifications. With the introduction of the ELQs policy and with the exemption for foundation degree programmes, it may be that foundation degree programmes will see an increase in demand from students with HE qualifications.

Widening participation

22.   This further evidence supports the conclusion that foundation degrees will both attract people from a 'broader range of backgrounds' and provide alternative routes into higher education for those who are not the 'traditional A-level school leaver', as envisaged in the original government consultation.

Organisation of courses

23.   With the majority of foundation degree programmes established for two or more years, the responses to the question about the organisation of courses in the 2007 National Student Survey (NSS) were more positive than the year before. However, there is still evidence that more work needs to be done to ensure the smooth running of courses.

Balancing study with work and other responsibilities - flexible provision

24.   Foundation degrees generally are not 'flexible' in the ways often envisaged. More than half of students entered full-time programmes, there is little movement between full and part-time programmes or between institutions and most programmes have a definite course length. However, when students do change mode of study or institution, most progress to the next year of the programme, so some sort of recognition of previous study, through a credit scheme or otherwise, must be operating.

25.   Comments made by students through the most recent National Student Survey reinforce the earlier feedback suggesting that flexibility may not be the only, or even most important, feature to help students juggle work, study and other responsibilities. They point to the need for stability and a timetable that is known well in advance.

Progression and achievement

26.   The completion rates reported here, being based on later cohorts, are based on bigger cohort sizes than those reported previously. The new figures generally confirm what was reported previously, with about half of the students gaining an HE qualification within the expected course length and about a quarter of students still studying. The main exceptions are part-time two-year programmes, where one in three or fewer students qualify in the expected time. As long as there are ways to extend study time there is no harm in aiming to complete in two years, but institutions should look at the outcomes of these programmes. Where only a minority of students complete within the expected time, institutions should ensure that prospective students are aware of this and are prepared to study over a longer time period.

27.   There is further evidence that most students progressing to honours degrees do so smoothly, with their foundation degree programme fully recognised as equivalent to two years of full-time honours degree study. A higher proportion of the 2004-05 foundation degree qualifiers who progressed to honours programmes graduated than the previous cohort, but there is still some evidence that a minority of students may have difficulty with the transition.

Support from employers

28.   The evidence suggests that students, even part-time students, do not get their tuition fees paid by their employer or any other financial support. This underlines the challenge of the employer engagement programmes, to develop provision such that employers will be willing to make a contribution significantly greater than the fee.

Describing foundation degree programmes

The academic subject classification (JACS) is not always well suited to describing foundation degrees. The new HESA record being collected for 2007-08 will facilitate the identification of courses and it is hoped that future reports will be able to describe foundation degree provision in ways that will be more recognisable to stakeholders.

Action required

29.   No action is required in response to this document.

Date: 1 May 2008

Ref: 2008/16

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions, Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Student data, Widening participation, Learning and teaching

Enquiries should be directed to:

Enquiries about HEFCE policy relating to foundation degrees: Wendy Staples, tel 0117 931 7324, e-mail

Technical enquiries relating to data and statistics: Mark Gittoes, tel 0117 931 7052, e-mail