The ‘A’ Level system has been in existence for many years, championed first by London University and then Cambridge. The requirements for a pass where known to represent the basics required to successfully undertake degree studies at all UK universities. By the 1970’s however, the then UK government realised that though many more graduates were being produced, the large majority were not fit for the economic purpose of the period. That lead to the creation of the Polytechnics which the government at the time believed would produce the graduates that were required by an evolving and diverse economy.
By the 1980’s, the UK polytechnics were producing far more students than the so-called traditional universities. Rather than compete head-on with the traditional universities for students with A’ levels, the Polytechnics started developing more robust entry methods such as prior accreditation learning and exemptions from normal entry requirements if a candidate can prove certain years of supervisory or managerial experience. This was coming at the back of government’s desire to increase the manpower level of artisans and technicians to service the economy. This saw a period in which BTech and other such bodies were created in the UK and the emergence of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).
By the early 1990’s yet another problem had emerged relating to the efficacy of these vocational qualifications and how they should be levelled or pegged against the more traditional entry qualifications such as A’ levels. The impasse produced yet another government action that resulted in BTech been subsumed by EDEXCEL. By this time, the Polytechnics had attained full university status and were able to formulate entry requirements outside of the A’ level system. This encouraged EDEXCEL, now a member company of Pearson, to develop a better system for grading the various qualifications they inherited. Briefly, they started with qualifications that could be offered in Further Educational Institutions (such as Basic Certificates and Diplomas) and then qualifications for entry onto Higher Education (levels 0 to 7).
Since that period, EDEXCEL have been able to streamline all their qualifications such that their qualifications are seen as progression levels whereby an individual can continue to top up their qualification(s) whilst still at work to a point where they are confident that they can apply for promotion without discrimination or to seek a higher position in another company or organisation. It is ironic that today many UK educational institutions are emulating the EDEXCEL model of learning and acquiring qualifications. It is even more ironic that today with a very few exceptions most UK universities offer their own Foundation Programmes (under different names) for entry unto their degree courses.
Briefly, the IDFP was benchmarked against the A level system. In an attempt to consolidate several hundred certificates and diplomas that were then on offer, EDEXCEL sought to streamline its qualifications based on university entry points: Year 1, 2 and so on. This was the start of the so-called level system.
In an attempt to maintain equity in standards EDEXCEL drew up detailed guidelines for the conduct and assessment of both course work and examinations. It provided also guidelines for teachers who teach their various qualifications and made it mandatory that such teachers be inducted into the EDEXCEL system and culture through extensive training sessions and certification. This has been their key strategy and they are beginning to make inroads across the world.
Without exception, EDEXCEL has ensured that all its subject offerings are mirrored against the A’ level system and its subject coverage are almost similar with slight emphasis here or there. The key differences are in terms of the way the subjects are assessed. EDEXCEL, given its close relationship with many of the newer universities, has ensured that its assessments mirror the evolving assessment systems of the newer universities. Thus, parts of the EDEXCEL assessments include course assignments that require research and the submission of specified reports. By and large, the breakdown is normally 70% examination and 30% course work. Indeed, many universities such as Middlesex University are now moving towards a 50-50 split given their student numbers and evolving assessment methods.
While the A’ level route continues to be popular, more and more educational establishments are beginning to realise that it is not suited for the majority of modern day students not least as result of its narrow focus (at most 3 subjects), the absence of modern methods of learning and the preparation for current university requirements of working in groups, independent learning and extensive report writing and presentations.
The IDFP is run in much the same way as the A’ level programmes and lasts for 1 academic year, running two cohorts in September and January in any year. Currently, 3 pathways are offered as follows:
- The Business Studies Pathway
- The Science Pathway
- Pre-Medical Pathway
The Pros and Cons of the IDFP: there are many advantages to the IDFP, some of which have been alluded to above. The key benefits can be summarised as follows:
-An internationally recognised qualification that is becoming more and more accepted around the world. Indeed many universities in the UK and Canada currently run their own Degree Foundation year as an alternative entry point
-Provides qualifications that can allow entry into many degree programmes. More recently, even the medical sciences faculties have come to accept the veracity of the qualification
-The programme is broad since it expects students to undertake 5 to 6 subjects rather than the narrow 2 or 3 subjects studied at A’ level
-An integral element of IDFP is developing communication skills and this allows students to implement these skills in other subject areas thereby raising the overall standard of the programme
-Course works and examinations are set according to strict guidelines and may not be issued unless validated by external examiners based in London; and who also moderate all papers and validate final results
-The IDFP requires each student to study ICT as integral part of the course thereby ensuring that each student is fit for a modern educational institution, most of who now require students to submit assignments and coursework online; and also to avail themselves of research and other materials through the institution’s internet network facilities
-Teachers are required to become “professionals” through regular update of their knowledge base and the acquisition of various teaching and delivery skills.
The cons associated with the IDFP are mainly related to 3 areas:
-The training of teachers to a level where they are able to deliver course materials and to undertake assessments in keeping with the strict guidelines set by EDEXCEL and other institutions
-Following procedures set to ensure that students are acquiring the level of knowledge, competency and skills as prescribed in the guidelines and within the time frame set
-Ensuring transparency and strict observance of the assessment regulations.
These drawbacks are issues that EDEXCEL and other reputable institutions now offering similar foundation courses are addressing through stricter audits, delivering of continuous training programmes for teachers, and instituting assessment monitoring and other control mechanisms. In order to ensure compliance regular un-announced audits are also carried out to ensure that conditions specified in the franchise agreement are being strictly observed. Where deficiencies are found, normally the external institution will submit a set of recommendations that will need to be implemented within a specified time period. Failure to comply will result in the suspension of the failing educational institution and the withdrawal of the operating license mandating the IDFP programme. In addition to these, the management information system that is in place at both EDEXCEL and other institutions ensures that management is updated on all key issues including student numbers, teacher qualifications and training received, and assessment and results to name but a few.
In the UK, all of the mainstream universities and colleges with the exception of the Russell Group, now accept the IDFP as a suitable and equivalent qualification to the A level. Indeed, few refuse to accept the qualification as an entry point because it has various pathways and upon the completion of their studies, most students are confident of the specific degree programme they wish to undertake. More recently, the IDFP has come to be accepted more and more by other countries. Recent additions include parts of Europe, Canada, Australia and some institutions in the USA. In time, and with the push in standards been made by EDEXCEL, the qualification will gain wider acceptance as a suitable university entry point.
To conclude, the Foundation programmes now on offer are, in the humble opinion of this writer, far more suitable for the majority of Nigerian students looking to study abroad. Indeed, the monitoring procedures now put in place by many of the validating institutions (mainly universities from the UK, Australia and Canada) have all helped to make this qualification more readily acceptable by both parents and their children. The perception that it is a less rigorous qualification to the A-Level is fast disappearing as more evidence emerges that many universities find it better prepares the majority of students from countries like Nigeria with the “independent” demands of university life abroad. Universities abroad find that given the various technological developments taking place in their establishments, the foundation route equips the majority of students to their procedures embodying elements of study and assessments which require students to download and upload information on a regular basis.
Dr G Fahad