The Changing face of Foundation courses

“Not only are new pathway providers entering the market, but major employers are also chipping away at the foundations of degree programs”


The Foundation course has long been an important bridge for international students wishing to enter the UK higher education system.

Traditionally, these foundation courses have been offered by international colleges that are often aligned to one university, indeed many of these international colleges are located on University campuses and there is a seamless link between completion of an international Year 1 or Foundation year and access to a degree program on the same campus.

There are many advantages to this system, not least that the student arrives in the UK with 1 CAS (Certificate of Acceptance for Studies) covering not only the foundation year but also the degree study period itself.

Also, there is the advantage that the student stays on one campus throughout the study period, rather than moving from a foundation study period on one campus in 1 town or city and then moving again within the UK to another University, post foundation completion.

However, there are more options on the table now and sometimes having more flexibility to decide onward study options rather than a CAS that covers foundation to degree from the day of entry to the UK can be an advantage.

Pak Fai Chui (also known as John) from Hong Kong joined the Kings Art Foundation program in 2017, having initially started a course with an on-campus Foundation provider at a Russell Group university. Having achieved excellent results, he is now beginning a degree in Art and Design at the University of Leeds, this September.

His thoughts highlight the advantages of this approach;

When I first started the course, I had no idea what university I might go to in the coming year. I did not even know about what specific degree I was going to take at university.

During the Kings Art & Design Foundation course, my Art teacher Kate assisted me to select my potential pathway by identifying my strengths and weaknesses from my visual work.

During the first term, I was told that my style of work has many similarities with illustration since then I have narrowed down my development from various Art and Design areas to illustration.”

This more ‘independent’ approach with school/college support to help narrow down the best onward study options will appeal to students who want the flexibility to select a University once they are settled in the UK and are clearer on their future study path.

However, there are also other, online study options emerging that may also interest particularly international students recognizing the cost of study in the UK.

As Fiona Reay, Head of Client Services at FutureLearn says, “Online learning has opened up a plethora of new pathways, with academically and professionally accredited programs, in particular, offering great ways of evidencing an ongoing commitment to a chosen subject or profession.

“Academically accredited courses serve the dual purpose of helping students accumulate credits towards a degree while providing the opportunity to ‘try before they buy’.  A modular approach means students can be sure that a course is right for them before committing to a whole program or degree – with the investment of time and money this entails”.

Major employers are entering this market. For example, FutureLearn partners with Accenture, which hosts seven free digital skills courses on FutureLearn, each designed to help and prepare learners to build digital skills.

Google too is seeing that the only way to help meet its recruitment needs is by creating its own training programs. Google has designed its own credential—spending five years creating an online IT support certificate program.

The online program is designed for beginners. By working eight to 10 hours per week on the five-course program, students can earn the certificate in eight months. Google offers the program through Coursera’s (online) platform and is paying through its philanthropic arm to knock the tuition rate down to @£38/$49 per month.

So, not only are new pathway providers entering the market, but major employers like Google are also chipping away at the foundations of degree programs and who knows how far this will go to determine not only the future of foundation programs but degree courses themselves? 

 About the author:  Pat Moores is director and co-founder of UK Education Guide.