1st March 2023
What makes a good Foundation Course?
By Patricia Moores

Foundation courses have been one of the success stories of recent times, with numbers
quadrupling over the last five years and more than 55,000 students choosing to study
Foundation year courses in 2019/20. (source: HEPI).
“A foundation course should prepare students for university, not just with English Language
level but also with a mix of academic literacies, study skills, critical thinking and confidence.
The aim is to make them feel prepared and ready for the next big step in their academic life,”
says Keith Ibsen, Deputy Academic Director, at St Clare’s, Oxford.
The ‘all round’ academic preparation stressed by Keith is picked up by Anna Matthews-
Stroud, Director of Kings Colleges; “An absolutely essential component of a top-class
Foundation course is academic rigour; is this student really getting the in-depth knowledge
needed to study at degree level? Basing a Foundation course on a KS5 curriculum is vital to
ensure the necessary depth of knowledge and critical reasoning skills are developed.
Without these being in place, a student may well struggle to cope on a degree course.”

It is also important to remember that in some cases students are starting a Foundation
course aged 17. The advantage to the student and the family,of course, is that the student is
only studying for a 1 year’s foundation course as opposed to a 2 year A Level or IB course.
However, at 17, if the student is coming straight into the UK education system to complete a
Foundation course, it may well be that they do not have much experience of developing
independent learning & critical reasoning skills and a year may not be long enough to have
developed their learning skills to excel at degree level.
Therefore, courses that recognise the importance of developing learning skills, e.g.,critical
reasoning skills, as well as subject knowledge may well have the edge…
Anna Matthews-Stroud adds, “ looking to see which Universities accept particular
Foundation programmes is a good way to identify if the necessary all round, academic rigour
is in place.”
As most students will want to transition straight from Foundation to degree, another key
component of a top quality Foundation programme must be “a rounded offer with careers
and university application advice built in,” says Joss Williams, Head Teacher at Earlscliffe.
Recent placements on Foundation programmes we have made at UK Education Guide have
included a significant amount of prior work with the student before they arrive in the UK to
start their Foundation programme. This work, in conjunction with the chosen Foundation

provider, not only includes prior selection of the subject pathway the student wishes to study
at Foundation level, but a clear understanding of the degree subject they also wish to
pursue, plus the completion of a first draft of their personal statement.
If a student starts a Foundation course in September, there is significant time pressure for
the UCAS application to be submitted ideally in late January. Therefore, a lot of planning &
thinking must be done in advance of the Foundation programme commencing to ensure
quality higher education decisions are made without distracting from Foundation course
studies once the programme begins.
Not withstanding all the points above, the basis of any good Foundation programme aimed
at international students is still robust EAL support. Many learners, particularly those who
only enter the UK Education system to complete their Foundation programmes, may struggle
with the linguistic demands of a University programme, whether this is; listening to lectures,
engaging in seminar discussions, or coping with the vast reading lists needed to present a
highly rated essay.
Therefore, As Betty Dagistan from Padworth College notes; “it is vital that high quality
Foundation programmes target their English language support directly to the demands of
degree study; both written and verbal skills need to be developed and practised so
international students can arrive on campus confident that they will be able to contribute to
seminars and write high quality essays.”
Certainly, Foundation programmes offer many advantages and potentially save the cost of 1
year’s study, but finding programmes that really can show students thrive and succeed in
their future degree studies is still the measurement that really does count…

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