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Foundation courses in the UK
There is rising interest in foundation programmes that ensure international students are at the same academic level as British students and well adjusted to begin university life in the UK. We profile some of the courses available.
Victoria Donnelly from Newcastle College in Newcastle upon Tyne explains why foundation programmes are offered in the international education marketplace: “In the past, students needed to sit A levels which are a two-year course [to enter a degree programme] and the structure did not suit all students,” she says. “Our foundation programme can be as short as six months and offers a shorter route into university degrees which may be more suitable to international students.”
Foundation programmes offer the equivalent of a final year of high school and essentially act as a passport into higher education. John Uren, Director of the International Foundation Year at the University of Leeds, expounds, “In most of the world, students finish their secondary schooling after completing grade 12. This means that they are out-of-step with students in England and Wales, hence most international students require a foundation year to bridge this one-year gap.”
Like academic preparation programmes, a foundation year offers targeted training to equip students with appropriate study skills for their onward plans, but such programmes are often more lengthy and intense and serve to fulfil a university’s requirement for recognised education qualifications as well as sufficient English language ability.
Some programmes are recognised nationwide, such as the one at Newcastle College. “Our programme is made up of national qualifications called higher education foundation certificates which are taken by UK students as well as international students,” relates Donnelly. “Our programme is recognised by all UK universities and we now have alumni studying at some of the best universities in the UK, including the University of Edinburgh and the London School of Economics.”
Indeed, Farman Kaveh from Abbey College in Worcestershire points out that the acceptance of foundation courses in lieu of A levels by universities has really evolved in the last few years, with all but some medical courses and institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge University now accepting a foundation course as a valid substitute to A levels. “We now have students going on to most of the top universities,” he indicates.
He adds that Abbey College is not aligned to one specific university, which may be an advantage for students. “We don’t work on a fixed partnership basis with universities, so we can give independent advice to students to suit their individual needs,” he says.
Anne Stokes, Director of CELT at the University of Stirling in Scotland, acknowledges that not all their foundation students wish to continue to study at the university. “Most of our students stay on and those who wish have no problems finding a place at another UK institution,” she says.
Jane Magee, Director of English Language Teaching at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, speaks for many providers when she says that the foundation year option is rising in popularity. She notes that many Asians enrol on their programme, adding, “Increasingly, students from Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkey [are joining them].”
Uren points out that their uptake has risen from nine students in 1989 to 120 in 2006 and mentions a few key markets for this sector. “Students from the Gulf countries and China are most likely to enrol,” he says. Meanwhile, Ian Forth from the University of Chichester agrees that demand is spreading, “Traditionally, [our programme] recruited students from Asia,” he says, “but lately the numbers of European students have increased.”
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