The provision of services and resources to students who are based away from mainstream provision has been a reality for many more higher education institutions in the last few years. If this is combined with the fact that courses are delivered in centres not owned by a college or university, another level of complexity is added. The challenge has been to try and match the expectation of students and academic staff with the realities of service provision within limited budgets and staffing complements. This paper explores the themes of distance student expectations and the tensions these may engender for service providers attempting to meet those expectations. This is illustrated by focusing on the development of a foundation degree in teaching and learning support at Edge Hill College of Higher Education, within the context of the national picture of the Government's foundation degree agenda, which is firmly fixed in the idea of local delivery. Learning Services at Edge Hill College have developed a ‘lifecycle’ approach to the provision of resources, skills and learner support. The paper will outline the developmental process, from initial assumptions through modifications to the position to date.
The Government's agenda: foundation degrees and teaching assistants
In February 2000, David Blunkett (then UK Secretary of State for Education and Employment) announced the launch of the foundation degree, a new concept in vocationally orientated, more flexible provision in the higher education sector. This was as a result of a number of Government reports that stressed the need to widen participation and develop a culture of lifelong learning, and was part of the government's vision to increase participation rates in higher education (Department for Education and Skills, 2004 and Department for Education and Employment, 1997). The key features of foundation degrees are that they are delivered by consortia, including higher education, further education and employers. The finished programme can be designed to meet the needs of a particular sector or occupation and will deliver a mix of academic knowledge, work-based learning and key generic skills. Greater flexibility in delivery and opportunities to progress to an honours degree programme were key aspects designed to suit the vocational learner.