University of Plymouth Colleges (UPC)


Size and scope of the partnership

The University of Plymouth is at the hub of a collaboration consisting of:

  • One of the longest standing HE /FE Partnerships in the country started in 1989;
  • Partner colleges which stretch across the SW peninsula from Weymouth and Taunton to the west of Cornwall ;
  • One of the largest partnerships in the country.

Organisation of the partnership

The University of Plymouth has a unique organizational structure for its partnership built around a faculty, University of Plymouth Colleges (UPC), that is entirely focused on running the partnership network. Formed in 2003, it has quickly established policies, a management structure and quality processes that recognise the importance of shared responsibility and open relationships between the Partners.

The faculty is organised around eight subject forums:

  • Art and design
  • Business and tourism
  • Education
  • Technology
  • Science, agriculture and sport
  • Arts and humanities
  • Health and social work
  • Social Sciences

Each forum links the Partner College and University staff and students in cognate areas. The subject forums provide the focus for shared programme design and development; assessment, student support, quality review and quality enhancement. Some forums have developed online and other resource materials. Each forum has a chair who is seconded to UPC for 50% of their time. All provision within UPC is subject to the same QA procedures as internal programmes of the University:

  • Programmes are linked to cognate academic departments within the University for the purposes of academic oversight and liaison. Each programme has a designated academic link person from the University academic staff, and programmes are subject to annual review that passes first though college and then university processes;
  • University- appointed external examiners provide external quality and standards comparators;
  • Programmes are subject to periodic review alongside internal university programmes in the same subject, and each college undertakes, with the university, a five yearly institutional partnership review.

Programmes offered

The majority of courses are at Foundation degree and HNC/D level, covering a full range of curriculum areas However, there are a small number of complete, specialist degrees, mainly delivered in the larger Colleges.

For the great majority of programmes there are planned and assured progression routes to top-up honours degree provision within the University. In addition, colleges FE provision has been mapped against University entry statements to ensure progression to the University from a wide range of FE programmes, including Access, GNVQ, NVQ; Edexcel and City & Guilds qualifications. This work not only strengthens the ability for students to progress seamlessly from one institution to another but also provides the opportunity to develop programmes across the FE/HE boundary.


The number of students in the Partnership has increased in the last five years and is predicted to double in the next five years.

Typically UPC students fall into three categories:

  1. Those attracted to UPC for reasons of proximity to home, lower costs, and a more supportive learning environment, who then progress to the University top-up degree
  2. Those attracted to UPC for similar reasons who do not wish to move; they take a restricted range of degrees at UPC colleges but will have access to wider opportunities in the future.
  3. Part-time students, mostly in employment, who will seek flexible local, work related programmes. Blended learning is being developed to meet their needs. This is the group that offers the greatest potential for growth – 34% of students take non- A level routes, yet less than half of these go onto HE. This group of potential students is one we shall aim to reach in the future.

Employment and links with employers

As a consequence of the change to Foundation degrees, a move to incorporating professional qualifications within our programmes, and meeting the needs of those in work, we are working even more closely with employers and Sector Skills Councils. For example, the UPC Foundation Degree run with the Royal Navy has been seen as a “flagship “national foundation degree.

  • The region has three major employers (the NHS; Local Government and Education). At present the University works extremely closely with the NHS; through UPC a wide range of Education provision is available (eg Cert Ed and Foundation Degree for Classroom Assistants). The growing requirements on local government to have a better trained workforce mark this area out as the next high priority for UPC based provision of HE opportunities. 
  • Most of our local employers are individual, small, and spread across a number of sectors. The UPC aims to respond to Regional Development Agency priorities, but much of this response will need to be via work- related rather than work- based delivery. The way to meet the needs of employees in very small enterprises is by offering a generic Small Business and Enterprise Foundation Degree, which will be characterised by a central core of basic small business skills (marketing; HR; business planning; Health & Safety etc), and can be contextualised for a range of vocational areas. In this way we may be able to meet the needs of employees in any one of a number of diverse vocational areas that might range from graphic designers to antique car restoration, tourism to heating engineers.