Further Education Written Case Studies

Exploration of the key factors contributing to the inequality among students and the impact on progression: The Feeder College Project 

  • Catherine Youds
  • Freya Ernsting
  • Fiona Dearing
Educational affiliation

Manchester Metropolitan University


This contribution aims to discuss the Feeder Colleges Project within Accounting Finance and Banking at MMU and the impact it has had on progression. The project is designed to explore the key factors contributing to patterns of inequality among students, specifically in the context of the award and progression gaps, working towards a more inclusive curriculum. It focuses on identifying and understanding the needs of students who are least likely to make it through to the completion of their degree. In particular, it explores the transition between further education (FE) and higher education (HE), focusing upon gaining knowledge students’ prior learning experiences, bridging the gap between FE and HE through sustained professional relationships with colleges and students at both FE and HE institutions.  It is hoped that this will continue to aid development of learning and teaching practices that can be adapted in HE to support student success. 


The Feeder College Project was set up in 2019. Analysis conducted on routinely collected student data within the Faculty found that in the academic year 2018/19, 83.5% of students at level 4 progressed to level 5. A number of significant factors were identified as barriers to student progression and award of a ‘good honours’ degree. These include the student’s ethnicity, previous qualifications, commuter status, gender, POLAR quintile, and whether the student undertook a placement year.   

Focusing upon entry qualifications, it has been widely acknowledged that students with different pathways to HE have differing experiences, progression rates and award. In particular, a negative impact for students with vocational entry qualifications, such as BTECs, has been identified, resulting in increased gaps between those with A-Level and vocational qualifications. Within our own faculty, a substantial gap has been identified for progression by entry qualification, suggesting students with prior vocational qualifications, (i.e. BTECs) are less likely to progress compared to students with academic (i.e. A Level) qualifications. In addition, a larger gap was identified in the award data, indicating students with academic qualifications are 58.2% more likely to be awarded a good honours degree than those with vocational qualifications.   

It was identified that students within the Faculty with vocational qualifications from particular local FEIs have lower rates of progression (less than 80% over a three-year period) and are less likely to achieve a good honours degree at MMU. Initially, we reached out to the 5 local Feeder Colleges that had the lowest rates of progression, of which two agreed to take part in the project. The aim was to establish a relationship with the feeder colleges that can be maintained throughout the student journey, from year 12/BTEC year 1 through to graduation.   

This relationship has allowed the project to develop insights into the prior learning experiences of our present and future students, with particular attention paid to students with BTEC qualifications, to support staff understanding and student success. The initial stages involved staff from the University visiting the feeder colleges to observe the learning environment of the FE students. It was also an opportunity to start the discussion between the HE and FE staff as to how HE differs from FE and what we can do to ease their transition to ensure they are not disadvantaged.  


Driven by a shared commitment to providing an inclusive experience for students and reducing award and progression gaps, this project explores the transition between further education (FE) and higher education (HE), focusing upon gaining knowledge students’ prior learning experiences, bridging the gap between FE and HE through sustained professional relationships with colleges and students at both FE and HE institutions, and adapting HE practices and processes to support student success. The team have worked collaboratively with a number of teams across the university to maximise the potential of the project and work with existing data to minimise any duplication. This has included collaborating with the Strategic Planning Office for the regular supply of feeder college data and how it aligns with rates of progression and award. In addition, the team has drawn on expertise from the Widening Participation team to identify contacts beyond the university.

There are three elements of the team within this project. The core operational team, managed by Catherine Youds, have worked closely with individuals within the strategic planning office for the regular provision of data, which Freya Ernsting has provided further analysis to provided department specific insights. The core operational team have worked collaboratively to promote the project at departmental meetings and workshops regarding student transition into HE. Along with the project and data, the approach has been contextualised within Fiona Dearing’s work considering Generation Z. Secondly, the project has involved delivering taster sessions and hosting visit days to the University. Teaching staff within the department have been involved in the delivery of these sessions, often self-selected as a result of their commitment to improving student outcomes and experience, and to raise awareness of prior educational experience. Finally, beginning within AFB, this project has now been rolled out to a further 4 departments within the Faculty of Business and Law, with a lead identified within each area.

Recognising the constraints within both FE and HE, there has been an emphasis placed on meaningful engagement to ensure the project is mutually beneficial for all involved. This has been achieved by ensuring the project is not an advertisement for ManMet, but an opportunity for us to learn about the prior education experiences of our incoming students, and for FE to learn more about the environment their students are going into. This has been exemplified by the relationships created and maintained between local colleges and ManMet and the subsequent changes made to assessment practices within the department.

As a direct result of those relationships, we have been able to deliver taster sessions and visit days. Here, teaching staff have been appointed to design sessions which provide both information about university life, and an insight into more discipline specific content. These have then been evaluated through the use of questionnaires by the core team to identify how further sessions may be of benefit to students and gain further insight into the decision making process of students regarding their pursuit of higher education.


During the first full academic years, 19/20 and 20/21, plans were changed/postponed due to the pandemic. This halted some anticipated progress; however, we maintained relationships with the colleges throughout and delivered virtual alternatives where appropriate.    

Key deliverables of the project at departmental level so far include:   

  • Assessment review was undertaken in collaboration with the colleges which became a major contributing factor to the redesign of assessments at Level 4. Assessments were adapted to ensure a more seamless transition for BTEC students 
  • Tailored and innovative sessions delivered to improve student confidence & manage expectations. These focused on skills, expectations, business games, careers insights  
  • Familiarity between arriving students and the first year teaching team – Rapport building allowed students to feel comfortable when first joining the programme  

There are three areas of impact within this project: students, curriculum, and staff. Looking firstly at students; one of the project objectives (PO5) is to support further education students in their career decision making process. This has been assessed through the use of questionnaires undertaken at taster sessions or visit days. In a recent (May 2022) visit day to Manchester Met, 42% of respondents indicated that attending the visit day resulted in them deciding to pursue higher education, which they previously had not. Furthermore, these questionnaires have helped us identify the challenges that FE students foresee about university life and what else they would like to know about university life. Both of these elements will assist us in the delivery of future sessions.

Secondly, this project aims to identify opportunities for course enhancement within current undergraduate programmes to support the transition needs of incoming students and their success (PO3). Impact in this area was achieved through working collaboratively with the initial colleges, where they provided feedback on a variety of assessments from AFB, and we were invited to review their assessments. This opportunity provided insight into the incompatible nature of the assessments within HE for incoming students. This resulted in the reconfiguration of assessment methods within our programmes to promote inclusivity to learners beyond the ‘traditional’ student.

Finally, this project has resulted in clear and strong relationships with local colleges, which has been beneficial for both HE and FE staff. This impact is found in a multitude of areas such as raising awareness of the needs of students amongst staff within HE, and raising awareness of studying at HE level for staff within FE, bridging the gap between FE and HE. As a result, this project has now been extended beyond AFB to the wider Faculty and beyond.

Following the launch of the project to support BTEC student transition, the progression gap has closed in the department between 2018 to 2021 from -15.2 to  -3.8. The department now outperform the University by +1.2 and +3.1 respectively having previously lagged behind.  

The project has also helped contribute to the BAME progression gap. The department now outperform the University average on BAME progression gaps. In 2017/18 the Department BAME progression gap was -8.1 for the Department but in 2019/20 BAME students outperformed white students by +1.3. The 2019/20 performance placed the Department +0.3 above the Faculty and +2.6 above the University. 

The project explores the key factors contributing to patterns of inequality among students, specifically in the context of the award and progression gaps. The project has delivered fantastic results to date with a significant improvement in progression for BTEC students.  Due to its success, the project is now being rolled out across the faculty and has had interest from Business Schools elsewhere in the sector However, its full potential is yet to be discovered and will take a full student journey for longer term lessons to be learnt. It is important that progression is considered as a longer-term relationship with students and their educational pathways. The project is central to developing an enhanced awareness of the differing learner types. By understanding vocational learner profiles, we can challenge epistemic assumptions.


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