At this time of year, thousands of local students are reaching a crossroads in their lives. Exam results have arrived and pivotal decisions are being taken that will shape future lives and careers. Many will choose degree study, but for others, the attraction of a University equivalent course at their local Further Education (FE) College has never been more appealing.

At Further Education Colleges, such as SWC, students can choose from a range of Higher Education courses, across a number of curriculum areas in levels such as Higher Level Apprenticeships, Higher National Diplomas, Higher National Certificates and Foundation Degrees. Completion of these vocationally led courses often result in direct employment, continued education and training, or serve as a stepping stone to a Full Honours Degree.

Working in partnership with local Universities, FE Colleges offer a range of Higher Education options – focused on meeting the needs of the regional economy.
Indeed, the further education sector currently delivers around 18% of all higher education provision in Northern Ireland

Foundation Degrees (completed in 2 years full time, or 3 years part time) combine hands on practical learning with academic study which can later be topped up to a full degree.
Foundation Degrees are also widely recognised as providing a robust platform for candidates seeking employment.

Higher National Diplomas and Higher National Certificates are also a popular option. HNCs and HNDs focus on 'learning by doing' providing skills that can be used in a particular job. They are highly valued by employers and can also count towards membership of professional bodies and other employer organisations. HNCs take one year to complete full-time and two years part-time. HNDs take two years full-time and can also be taken part-time, which takes longer.

Most recently, these Colleges have been part of a new wave of learning through the introduction of Higher Level Apprenticeships (HLAs). Open to Post ‘A’ Level students and those who have undertaken Level 3 qualifications, HLAs allow students to jointly study and work in paid employment in their chosen profession. The HLA is a unique work based programme that enables participants to earn while they learn, while gaining a recognised Level 5 qualification. Courses are funded by the Department for the Economy so students never have to worry about tuition fees.

The six Colleges attract over 90,000 learners every year and continually adapt and develop the curriculum to keep pace with shifting economic and skills demands.
The sector provides employment to over 5,000 people and, each year, inject over £150 million into the economy in salaries and wages.

Further Education Colleges are the more affordable option, with much lower tuition frees. Students also have to option to live at home, reducing the substantial living and maintenance costs that come with moving away.

Colleges work with more than 10,000 of Northern Ireland’s employers, from the smallest start-ups to multi-nationals, supporting them to reskill, upskill, innovate and grow.

There are many reasons why studying locally makes sense. As well as the extensive range of courses available, students are also attracted by number of other benefits from opting for College over University.
Many students prefer the smaller class numbers, and the benefit of added individual hours with lecturers and tutors.

Further Education Colleges are the more affordable option, with much lower tuition frees. Students also have to option to live at home, reducing the substantial living and maintenance costs that come with moving away.

Colleges also focus time and energy into improving the Health and Wellbeing of students recognising the positive impact this can have on study and future success. All six colleges have thriving student services facilities offering a number of extracurricular activities as well as advice and support on student finance, safeguarding, learning support and equality.

Careers Advice at NI’s FE Colleges is now recognised as the best in the UK. Offering a wide range of bespoke programmes, this support service assists students to meet their full educational and employment potential. This Career guidance is provided throughout the student’s time at the college, and also as they consider making the next step into employment or Higher Education.

Sarah Gillespie is one Higher Education student who was directly benefited from the Higher Level Apprenticeship training programme.
A fully trained pharmacist, Sarah gave up her day job to study the Software Development HLA and went on to win the Department for the Economy’s Apprentice of the Year Award.

Sarah said: ‘’I will complete my HLA next year. I wouldn’t put anyone off going to university if that’s what they wanted to do but I think the HLA in Software Development accredited by Ulster University is a brilliant opportunity for those interesting in pursuing a career in IT. The HLA allows me to earn as I learn and I’m more experienced than someone coming out of university.’’

South West College will be running Information and results sessions in August for students receiving A Level examinations results and who need support and guidance with their next career move.

A Level Results Open Day: Thursday 15th and Friday 16th August, 10am-4pm, Dungannon, Enniskillen and Omagh.

GCSE Results Day (Registration Day): Thursday 22nd August, 9am-4pm, Dungannon, Enniskillen and Omagh.

Information Evening: Tuesday 27th August, 6pm-8pm, All Campuses.

Information Evening: Tuesday 10th September, 6pm-8pm, All Campuses.