When I came to write my HEA Senior Fellowship case in 2017 I decided to use my work in our universities STEM Foundation year. Since 2015-16 we have run this course, which is designed to bring a wider cohort of people into STEM and in particular Engineering and Physics, Computer Science. Preparing and delivering part of the course has tested my lecturing, contact teaching and assessment skills, as we look for new ways with e-assessment to teach a large cohort effectively. Do I think it’s worth it? – Yes. Last week I witnessed one of the highlights so far: a group of our Foundation Year students taking part in a competition with a Kuala Lumpur cohort of 1st year science undergraduates over the internet. The topic was planetary orbits and the prize is an exchange trip to the Malaysian University. Our students led the way in solving the problems. The Foundation Year students are a varied cohort – some who didn’t quite make the undergraduate entrance requirements, those with BTECs rather than A-levels, people wanting to study Engineering or Physics but who didn’t do a Maths A-level. Many of the Foundation Course cohort are mature learners, over 21 years old, and with other jobs, sometimes commuting to the University. The course has attracted 80-90 students per year. The course is full time for one academic year, campus-based and on successful completion the students are allowed into the normal first year undergraduate cohorts.
However, in researching my Senior Fellowship Case Study I searched in vain for any HEFCE White Papers or substantial studies about such courses. That surprised me because STEM Foundation years are a growing part of the UK higher education sector, a response to the identified need for more Engineering and other STEM graduates. Anecdotal feedback from colleagues at other universities suggests that progression rates in the UK are often 70-80%. Our students who have progressed into the undergraduate years have fitted in well, suggesting that our core aims are being achieved. However, non-engagement and poor attendance by a significant fraction of the Foundation Year cohort remain a challenge. There is limited pedagogical research into the effectiveness of Foundation Years, and this important part of the UK Higher Education sector is thus at a stage which requires careful application of the HEA framework in course construction, and ongoing course evaluation.
In a welcome development – which reflects the importance of such courses – the HEA recently decided to include Foundation year studies within the range of allowable work for Fellowship accreditation. I’m glad I chose to highlight my Foundation Year work for my SFHEA application. It helped focus my thoughts on good teaching practice and the new challenges and opportunities for students from a wider than usual background.
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