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Mature Students at Northumbria University A Success Story Introduction Northumbria University operates the Higher Education Foundation Course (HEFC) which is the oldest and largest access to HE course in the North East region and parts of Cumbria in the UK.

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  • Northumbria University operates the Higher Education Foundation Course (HEFC) which is the oldest and largest access to HE course in the North East region and parts of Cumbria in the UK.
  • It has a long established track record of
    • widening access / participation to learning
    • contributing to successful performance of mature students at HE
  • For over 3 years now HEFC has been successfully transformed into distance /e learning format.
profile of hefc key facts
Profile of HEFC Key Facts
  • Developed in 1981 as an access course route between Newcastle College and the then Newcastle Polytechnic (Northumbria University)
  • Now 10 FE colleges and schools in the HEFC Consortium delivering HEFC across NE region and Carlisle
  • Moderated and validated by Northumbria University
  • Dual award
    • University Foundation Certificate
    • QAA recognised - National Access to HE Award
profile of hefc key facts4
Profile of HEFC Key Facts
  • Around 1500 students enrolled on average each year
  • Reasons for study apart from access to HE, include as a first step back into study, personal or career enhancement,
  • HEFC is highly regarded by local employers, e.g. Local NHS utilise the HEFC as part of a day release training programme for its own employees.
  • Very flexible curriculum structure and flexible delivery modes to enable mature students to successfully combine study with work and / or family commitments
hefc flexible curriculum structure and delivery
HEFC Flexible Curriculum Structure and Delivery
  • subject based, fully unitised curriculum developed collaboratively by Northumbria with FE/school partners
  • 25 + academic and vocational subjects on offer
  • preparatory level 2 study skills and key skills units available
  • students can take bite sized units of learning
  • credit for partial completion
  • can be ‘step on / off ‘ - 5 years to complete course - (most complete in 2 years)
  • multiple entry points, summer school delivery,
  • full & part time and fast track modes of study,
  • distance/online learning, blended models of delivery and
  • now opportunities for mixed mode of study
progression to he of hefc students
Progression to HE of HEFC students
  • HEFC is highly regarded by HE Admissions Tutors
  • Numbers progressing to HE have grown steadily over last 8 years – around 300+ students now progressing to Northumbria University
  • In total around 450 students now progress to HE each year typical progression destinations - nursing, teaching, social work
  • Evidence this year of students also progressing on to Foundation degrees in local colleges.
performance of hefc students graduating from northumbria
Performance of HEFC Students Graduating from Northumbria

Brackets indicate Northumbria average

Failure rate averaged as 3% comparable with Northumbria average

Non continuation rate of around 13% better than the HEFCE Benchmark for Northumbria mature students of 16%

hefc distance e learning project 2000 2003
HEFC Distance / e Learning Project 2000-2003


  • HEFCE/ LSC funded Widening Participation Development Project aimed at mature students.


  • To WP in rural areas of Northumberland to those unable to undertake study via traditional classroom based delivery through work, family commitments or geographical location.


  • By transforming a very successful access to HE course

( Higher Education Foundation Course ) into distance and online

delivery format

hefc d e learning key activities 2000 2003
HEFC D / e Learning Key Activities 2000-2003
  • Phased rolling programme of development of HEFC subject modules transformed into distance and e learning formats
  • Initially by tutors in FE college now in collaboration with Technical Development Team at Northumbria.
  • Latterly -Technical Team develop materials to standardised design with content supplied by tutors.
  • 6 subjects – have now been successfully piloted, evaluated tweaked and validated with nearly 100 students. And 5 further subjects in production.
  • DL materials developed in variety of formats - mix of,

Web, cd rom and paper based and latterly use of VLE

hefc d e learning additional benefits
HEFC D / e Learning Additional Benefits
  • Materials have been successfully utilized by colleges to support irregular attenders - shift workers - on traditional classroom based delivery.
  • Evidence from the third and final pilot year students are combining traditional based study with DL mode of study.
profile of hefc d e learning student
Profile of HEFC D / e Learning Student

HEFC DL student is likely to betypically

  • Female aged between 25 and 40
  • with part time or full time work commitments
  • with childcare responsibilities
  • new to HEFC
  • has access to a computer at home
  • studying for range of reasons –return to learn, career enhancement, progression to HE ( to teaching/nursing ) or HE study via OU
student views of hefc d e learning
Student Views of HEFC D / e Learning


  • flexibility
  • self paced – manage own time
  • fits in with work commitments & care responsibilities
  • avoids travel


  • isolation from peers/tutor
  • time management – self motivation
  • technical problems
support for hefc d e learning students
Support for HEFC D / e Learning Students

Student support mechanisms in place

  • Student induction & induction pack for online study
  • Face to face tutorials group / 1 to 1 – Saturday mornings
  • Email
  • Telephone
  • Letter
  • HEFC website /message board /internet
  • Written feedback on assignments
  • Student study group / peer group
support for hefc d e learning tutors
Support for HEFC D / e Learning Tutors

Staff support mechanisms in place

  • Staff handbook for DL/OL learning
  • Distance Learning Tutors Forum real and virtual
  • Mentoring system
  • Staff development and training events
  • Support by Technical Team
future activity
Future Activity
  • Fully integrate the learning materials within the University VLE platform Blackboard
  • Realise the potential of HEFC via elearning for providing support to undergraduates with diverse pedagogic needs and academic or study skills gaps.
  • Further develop distributed delivery model to WP to those without pc at home – make HEFC available online in outreach & community centres, libraries etc
  • Undertake Research - gather student progression and destination data & map student demand for online HE
  • Develop a range of progression pathways, underpinned by HEFC online / e learning materials
      • online foundation certificate /international foundation
      • work based learning access to HE route
      • access to foundation degrees / HND’s