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HEFCE’s analysis is an important step in understanding the increasingly significant contribution that FECs are making to English higher education (Note 2).

The indicators for student participation and non-continuation in FECs have been developed in discussion with them. The indicators are intended to be as consistent as possible with the established indicators for higher education institutions (HEIs) to enable a coherent set of measures for publicly funded higher education (Notes 3 and 4). HEFCE’s report looks at rates of participation and retention at individual FECs as well as trends at sector level, and examines how these compare against sector-adjusted averages (Notes 5, 6 and 7).

HEFCE’s analysis shows that FECs performed strongly in terms of widening participation. Key findings are:

  • When compared with the sector-adjusted average for the sector as a whole, which takes into account the mix of students at the institutions, FECs performed better than expected by more than five percentage points.
  • Around one in five FECs performed significantly better than expected in their widening participation indicator, with a higher proportion of young full-time students from low participation neighbourhoods than might have been expected.
  • FECs also compare favourably to HEIs with respect to widening participation for young full-time first degree entrants. Nearly a quarter (22.9 per cent) of all such entrants registered at FECs were from neighbourhoods with low rates of participation in HE: this is more than double the rate (10.5 per cent) for all such entrants registered at English HEIs.

The non-continuation indicators consider both entrants to first degrees and to other undergraduate courses, where students on courses other than first degrees made up two-thirds of all undergraduate entrants (Note 9). Key findings are:

  • FECs as a sector performed slightly better than expected among other undergraduate students, with a non-continuation rate of 19.5 per cent that was lower than the sector-adjusted average of 20.0 per cent (i.e. with a smaller proportion of students becoming absent from HE than expected).
  • At the level of individual institutions, one in ten FECs performed significantly better in their non-continuation indicator for full-time other undergraduate students, with lower non-continuation rates than expected.
  • Among first degree entrants at FECs, the non-continuation rate for the sector was slightly higher than expected: 14.1 per cent of entrants did not continue in HE after their first year.
  • One in 40 FECs performed significantly better than their sector-adjusted average in their non-continuation indicator for full-time first degree students.

The report provides colleges with a means for understanding their own profiles in the context of the national picture (Note 8). 

Sarah Howls, Head of Student Opportunity at HEFCE, said:

’HEFCE is committed to working in the collective student interest, and to ensuring that all students receive the best higher education experience possible, wherever they choose to study. We welcome the significant contribution that colleges in the FE sector make towards widening participation in higher education.

‘Today’s report also highlights differences in non-continuation – students who do not continue their courses – as between further education colleges and higher education institutions. We look forward to working with our partners and colleges in the FE system to investigate the reasons for the patterns found.

‘This report is important in understanding the key role that further education colleges play in a diverse and vibrant higher education sector. HEFCE will continue to work with colleges and other partners to develop a clearer picture of this important area of higher education provision. This will enable us more effectively to support continuous improvement and an enriched experience for students.’

HEFCE intends to further develop the set of indicators for HE provision at FECs in the future, to cover additional types of students and activity (Note 10). 



  1. The report provides details of widening participation and non-continuation indicators for HE provision registered at HEFCE-funded further education colleges (FECs). Of the HE that takes place in FECs, HEFCE is empowered to fund only certain prescribed courses. This is set out in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 and the Education (Prescribed Courses of Higher Education) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 1998, which were amended to apply to England. All HE provision considered within the report for students registered or taught at FECs is prescribed HE delivered by HEFCE-funded FECs. 
  2. In 2009-10, around 60,000 undergraduates were registered at 125 HEFCE-funded further education colleges, approximately four per cent of all undergraduates studying in England. Of these around 35,000 were full-time, and around 25,000 were part-time. 
  3. The analysis uses methods that are intended to be as consistent as possible with the UK Higher Education (HE) Performance Indicators (PIs) published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). PIs for HE provision have been published for higher education institutions (HEIs) since 1999; they have not included HE provision registered at FECs. The first PIs for HE provision registered at HEIs were published by HEFCE, on behalf of all four UK HE funding bodies. The PIs have been published by HESA on HEFCE’s behalf since 2004. The Performance Indicators Steering Group (PISG) has been overseeing the implementation, management and ongoing development of the PIs since 1998. 
  4. The indicators are provided for UK domiciled students who started full-time undergraduate programmes of study registered at English FECs in 2009-10 (for the widening participation indicators) and 2008-09 (for the non-continuation indicators, which require two years data). While part-time students are not included in the results provided by this publication, we recognise that they account for a substantial proportion of HE provision registered at FECs. The patterns of study of part-time students registered at FECs require further investigation and understanding before indicators can be developed to consider this provision. 
  5. The indicators are provided by institution, split by whether or not students were entrants to first degree programmes or other undergraduate programmes. The widening participation indicators report the proportion of entrants who were from areas with low rates of participation in HE (low participation neighbourhoods). The non-continuation indicators report the proportion of entrants who did not continue in HE beyond their first year. 
  6. The interpretation of the indicators is supported through the provision of sector-adjusted averages. These take account of an institution’s student profile in respect to some of the factors understood to affect an institution’s likelihood of recruiting widening participation students, or of retaining the students it recruits. They are calculated across all UK HEIs and all English FECs, and are intended to help avoid comparisons between institutions whose student profiles are so different from one another that they should not be compared directly. 
  7. Sector-adjusted averages are the equivalents to the benchmarks published within the UK HE performance indicators. 
  8. We have consulted English FECs on the methods used to generate these participation and non-continuation indicators. Two institutions’ results are suppressed because of problems they have identified in the underlying ILR data they returned to the Data Service, which led to misleading indicators being calculated. 
  9. The population of undergraduate entrants in 2009-10 considered in respect of the widening participation indicators was made up of 5,610 full-time first degree entrants (5,190 in 2008-09) and 12,520 other undergraduate entrants (11,405 in 2008-09). As described more fully at Annex A of the HEFCE report, other undergraduate courses include, but are not limited to, foundation degrees, Diplomas and Certificates of Higher Education, Higher National Certificates and Diplomas, and Diplomas of Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector. 
  10. We intend to produce these indicators annually. HEFCE intend to publish widening participation indicators for entrants in 2010-11, and non-continuation indicators for entrants in 2009-10, later in 2012. 

Sector-level indicators (bold) and sector-adjusted averages (italic)



Entrants registered at FECs

Entrants registered at HEIs

Widening participation

Young full-time first degree





Young full-time other undergraduate






Full-time first degree





Full-time other undergraduate