The pre-existing conditions enabling and constraining BTEC HE decision-making in an FE College

Previous research has found that HE decision-making support in further education (FE) colleges does not tend to be as well-resourced and consistent as that offered by other post-16 institutions. The aim of this paper is to explore how and why this might be by considering the HE choice-making experiences of Level 3 Business and Education Technology (BTEC) students and staff in an FE college in England. Exploration of this particular topic is relevant to the theme of “Education in a Changing Society” as FE Colleges have to balance supporting their pre-entry HE students with the fact that the government expects them to be primarily concerned with supporting students into an employment market shaped by societal challenges such as the aftermath of the pandemic and exit from the European Union. The paper’s objectives are threefold:

  • To identify the practices involved in the College’s HE Choice Support Programme
  • To identify the pre-existing conditions underpinning the practices involved in the College’s HE Choice Support Programme
  • To provide recommendations to inform future FE and HE policy and practice related to HE choice-making

In order to explore the aim and objectives outlined above, a primarily qualitative case study of an FE college in the West Midlands was undertaken. Sources of evidence include the College UCAS database, College documents and interviews with students and staff (including senior staff, a previously under-explored area). Document and interview data are analysed in accordance with the Theory of Practice Architectures. This framework encourages exploration of the arrangements underlying the HE choice support practices of the College and thus, is useful in pinpointing some of the more ingrained conditions holding support in place. The findings reveal an inconsistent College HE choice support programme, with a heavy reliance on tutors and local universities. Conditions underpinning the practices of the programme relate to the structure of both the BTEC qualification and the College, the varying relationships between the College and the different types of university and competing College priorities. Further discussion considers a number of tensions found to be inherent in the College, including difficulties in providing both consistent and highly personalised support and in supporting both Widening Participation and Fair Access initiatives at the same time. A number of practical recommendations are made, highlighting the underlying conditions that would need to change for FE HE choice support to fulfil its potential.