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Executive summary


1. This report considers students who undertook employer co-funded higher education (HE) provision in academic years 2007-08 and 2008-09 within the remit of HEFCE’s workforce development programme . We look at the profiles and characteristics of co-funded students, as well as the provision itself, to improve knowledge and understanding of learning undertaken within these arrangements.

Key points

2. HEFCE's workforce development programme includes employer co-funded provision that is a relatively new initiative: the first of this provision was delivered in the 2007-08 academic year, following a pilot in 2006-07. It was established following a request from the Government in January 2007 that formed a response to the Leitch Review of Skills . HEFCE was asked ‘to develop a new model for funding higher education that is co-financed with employers, achieves sustained growth in employer-based student places, and introduces the principle of employer demand-led funding’. Over the period 2008-09 to 2010-11, the Government asked HEFCE to continue to support growth in provision for employee learners through a method that encouraged greater employer investment in HE.

3. Employer co-funding has been operational within HE for many years to varying extents, with institutions establishing their own arrangements and relationships with employers. The analysis reported by this paper is unable to capture employer co-funded provision in its entirety: here we are only able to consider co-funded provision that was formally associated with the co-funding component of HEFCE’s workforce development programme. Throughout this paper, references to co-funded students or provision relate to this specific constituent of employer co-funded provision.

4. Currently, data regarding individuals undertaking co-funded provision are available for 2007-08 and 2008-09. Cohorts of co-funded students in these two years have been examined in this report and demonstrate the development of the initiative. Expansions in student numbers, the range of subjects studied and the types of qualifications undertaken by co-funded students have all been observed between 2007-08 and 2008-09.

5. Consideration is made of both student headcounts and student full-time equivalent (FTE) numbers. Unless otherwise stated, figures given in these key points relate to findings in terms of headcount.

Institution characteristics

6. The number of institutions registering co-funded activity increased from six in 2007-08 to 34 in 2008-09. In 2008-09, 19 institutions delivering this provision were post-1992 higher education institutions (HEIs), 11 were pre-1992 HEIs and four were further education colleges (FECs).

7. In both years, co-funded activity was concentrated at post-1992 HEIs. Eighty-five per cent of co-funded students (by headcount) in 2008-09 were registered at post-1992 HEIs.

8. It was most common for institutions to return a total of fewer than 250 co-funded students: in most cases the headcount returned equates to 50 or fewer FTEs.

9. Institutions in the West Midlands, North East and North West accounted for the largest proportions of co-funded students.

10. The majority of institutions’ provision was limited to one or two subject areas, and one or two qualification aims. In 2008-09 expansion to larger numbers of subject areas and qualification aims studied was observed for some institutions.

Qualifications on entry

11. For some attributes of students and the courses they undertake, differences were observed depending on whether individuals held an HE qualification prior to entry to the co-funded provision.

12. In 2008-09, around half of co-funded students held HE-level qualifications on entry: higher than has been observed among many other populations of HE students.

Student characteristics

13. In 2007-08 and 2008-09 respectively, 83 per cent and 86 per cent of co-funded students with known age were between the aged of 20 to 49. Although the distributions across this age range were relatively even, in 2007-08 those aged between 24 to 35 who held HE-level qualifications on entry were over-represented.

14. Three in every five co-funded students were female, putting them broadly in line with other populations of HE students in respect of their profile by sex.

15. The ratio of women outnumbering men appears to be associated with the fact that some of the subject areas most frequently studied by co-funded students (such as Education) are studied predominantly by women whether co-funded or not.

16. Numbers of co-funded students who were not domiciled in the UK prior to commencing their course were small.

17. In 2008-09, 90 per cent of UK-domiciled students with known ethnicity who held HE-level qualifications on entry were returned as being from a White ethnic background, compared with 95 per cent among those who held qualifications on entry that were below HE level.

Qualification aims

18. The profile of qualification aims studied by co-funded students was substantially different to that observed among many other populations of HE students. The most frequent qualifications being studied by co-funded students in both 2007-08 and 2008-09 were institutional credits. Institutional credits and undergraduate certificates and diplomas were each studied by 32 per cent of the 2008-09 students who held HE-level qualifications on entry.

19. Among those co-funded students who held below HE-level qualifications on entry, the most frequent qualification aims were institutional credits (49 per cent of the 2008-09 cohort), foundation degrees (22 per cent) and undergraduate certificated and diplomas (21 per cent).

20. Analysis has shown that for some qualification aims, co-funded activity was concentrated in one subject area. For example, although institutional credit students were active across 10 subject areas in 2008-09, almost 60 per cent were studying in one subject area: Veterinary science, agriculture and related subjects.

21. For around a quarter of the 2008-09 cohort, their co-funded qualification aim was at an equivalent or lower level than their highest qualification held on entry.

Patterns of study

22. The vast majority of students in our cohorts had commenced their course in the academic year considered. Indeed, they had commenced programmes of study across the academic year: half of the 2008-09 cohort started their course after 1 December 2008.

23. Among entrants in 2008-09 who held HE-level qualifications, 77 per cent had not undertaken any HE-level study in the academic year prior to their co-funded activity. Further education (FE) level or non-advanced study had recently been undertaken by 5 per cent of these entrants. For those who held below HE-level qualifications on entry, these proportions were 92 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.

24. Part-time was the most frequent mode of study among co-funded students: 93 per cent of the 2008-09 cohort studied part-time. The ratio of student FTE to student headcount suggests that the majority of these students study at low intensities: this is seen to be related to the study of institutional credits.

25. Part-time students were most frequently returned on programmes of study expected to last either for a maximum of one year or for an indefinite length of time.

26. The range of subject areas studied was greater in 2008-09 than in 2007-08. Among those who held HE-level qualifications on entry, Subjects allied to medicine was the subject area of study for the largest proportion of co-funded students in 2008-09 (32 per cent). For those who held qualifications on entry that were below HE level, Veterinary sciences, agriculture and related subjects was the most frequently studied subject area: studied by 36 per cent of this cohort in 2008-09.

27. Analysis has shown that 31 per cent of co-funded students in 2008-09 were awarded a qualification within that academic year. In the vast majority of cases students obtained the qualification they aimed for.

Action required

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

Date: 1 January 2011

Ref: HEFCE 2011/12

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Student data, Planning, Widening participation