Not many people realise it but going to university isn’t the only way to get a degree. For some young people, studying at a smaller local college is the best option.
Dozens of colleges dotted around the UK offer university-level qualifications – numbers make up around 10 per cent of the total HE student population. The key difference is that the smaller, friendlier institutions have something different to offer students.
Although the university undergraduate experience is great, the supportive and immersive learning experience at a college can be just as transformative because of the unique opportunities that it presents. Colleges are also great at delivering higher and degree apprenticeships that combine a qualification with real work experience. Most colleges’ apprenticeship provision is outstanding because the mixture of hands-on vocational and traditional learning is what colleges have been doing in HE for decades.
There’s usually a fantastic age range in college higher education. The mixture of ages creates a melting-pot of collective experience with the contrasting perspectives and range of skills creating unique and challenging learning experiences for those at each end of the scale.
Because it is usually smaller-scale, college-based higher education is often more specialised. For example, our University Centre offers only thirteen undergraduate courses, only six resulting in a BA (Hons) award. There’s flexibility in the way our courses are designed. We run a two-year foundation degree (FD) with an optional BA top-up year to get a full degree. Not all of those who complete a foundation degree go on to the top-up year because they don’t need it to get to where they need to be in their career or professional life.
Group sizes are small compared with university. For example, on the largest course, Early Years, there are around 25 students in a year group, whereas on the Contemporary Art and Design Practice degree there are around ten. The small-scale allows each student to be treated as an individual and have a tailored and supportive learning experience.
Our local partnerships give an opportunity for unique learning experiences. For example, on the Art and Design degree, the studio space for our third-year top-up students at Dean Clough Mills in Halifax offers internationally renowned art galleries and a thriving community of artists-in-residence who drop-in to share their wisdom about surviving in the professional art world. The chance to collaborate and share a space within the professional world is invaluable for students seeking a career in the creative industries.
The student experience that you get at University Centre Calderdale College is different to a university. Some students live at home, some with parents, or as mums and dads themselves (or grandparents!), working part-time, full-time or volunteering to gain experience while they study. Rather than the live-away university experience, college-based HE usually means fitting studies around professional life and family responsibilities, enabling a good work and study balance.
The individualised flexibility and support is designed to give the best opportunity to achieve – both academically and post-graduation. The majority of students go on to successfully work in industry, to study on Master’s programmes, and some even go on to teach and inspire the next generation of students.
Kirsty Sanderson, HE Outreach Officer, Calderdale College