There are many different types of Foundation Programme, but they are all designed as preparation for Higher Education courses, often for students who do not have the necessary qualifications for university entry.
Many Foundation Programmes taught at private sixth-form colleges consist of a mixed curriculum devised by the college, where they have negotiated deals with specific universities or Art Schools for it to be a valid qualification for entry. The most popular is a pre-university course which offers fast track entry to UK universities for international students. They typically last for either 12 or 18 months and are only available to students of at least 17 years old because you need to be at least 18 years old for university entry. They are often built round a combination of subjects such as (1) Business & Finance, (2) Engineering & Technology or (3) Law, Social and Political Studies.
You will sometimes see these courses advertised by colleges with the words “guaranteed university entry”. You need to be aware that this means (a) only if you achieve a minimum pass mark and (b) admission to specified universities. Most of the Top 25 UK universities do not generally accept these Foundation Programmes as being of a sufficiently high academic level to proceed to a degree course. Indeed, many of the top universities are now setting their own admissions tests for some degree courses because they do not find that three A grades at A level allows them to differentiate between the top candidates for admission.
Notwithstanding this, Foundation Programmes are very popular because they offer a fast track entry route into a significant number of big UK universities who are seeking to recruit foreign students. Although Foundation Programmes started in private sixth form colleges, a number of UK universities have set up their own programmes on campus in an effort to recruit more international students.
In theory Foundation Programmes are only valid for international students, but some colleges have been sending so many students to certain universities, that they can slip a few UK nationals in “under the radar”. Thus, in theory, a UK student who failed his /her AS exams at 17 could switch to a Foundation Programme and still gain entry to a university at 18.
For students wanting to study Art and Design at university or Art College, there are Art Foundation Diploma courses which are often recommended as a first step. These typically last one year and offer the opportunity to explore a range of disciplines within Art and Design before choosing an area in which to specialise. Assistance is given during the course in building a portfolio and applying for degree courses. There are variants in Drama which end up with a RADA Certificate and entry to Drama or Stage School. Similarly a Music Composition or Music Technology Foundation Course can lead to entry into a music academy, conservatoire or directly into the music industry.These type of Foundation Programme can sometimes be combined with conventional A Level studies.
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