Louise Andronicou, London South Bank University

Associate Professor and Director at London South Bank University, and keen advocate of BTEC qualifications, reveals how LSBU have been teaching BTEC College students on their university campus.

I heard you were a huge advocate of BTECs. Can you tell me why?

I think that the qualification combines the best of both worlds, particularly the new type of BTEC that came into place in 2016, because BTEC students have practical skills – presentation skills, working in teams etc. and this is exactly what we need students to do when they come to London South Bank University (LSBU).

The new BTECs have introduced the academic rigor to the qualification, there’s now been the introduction of external examinations, synoptic assessments, more compulsory modules, so really they’re combining the best of both worlds. They’ve got the practical skills and they’ve got the academic rigor.

We really do welcome students on our courses, and every year we recruit more and more BTEC students, and because we value BTEC students so much we’ve set up several projects to help BTEC students.

One of the projects has involved ICT BTEC students from NewVic College coming in to LSBU over a whole year and we’re teaching two of the modules of their BTEC to them – so it’s our tutors teaching the BTEC students. The ICT BTEC students have been able to use the state of the art multi-million pound facilities of our School of Arts and Creative Industries.

Judging from last year’s cohort, who did exactly the same thing with us, it’s going to be a phenomenal success. We are hoping that every single student is going to get a distinction, like last year. That’s our hope, and also to motivate them and give them the confidence in their qualification, encouraging them to progress to university – hopefully to us, but anywhere they want. They need to know that a BTEC qualification is valuable.

We do loads of other things as well. In engineering for example, we put on additional maths classes to support students on their BTEC engineering.
 

"We really do welcome students on our courses, and every year we recruit more and more BTEC students, and because we value BTEC students so much we’ve set up several projects to help BTEC students."

- Louise Andronicou

I was just about to ask are you thinking of expanding this project?

Oh absolutely. In law we’ve helped students with their extended writing and analytical skills, to give them that push to get distinctions. That’s what we are all about, supporting the BTEC students to give them the confidence and eventually see them progressing to our courses.
 

Is the whole idea to get these BTEC students into London South Bank University (LSBU), or is there more of an overarching theme of getting all BTEC students into university? At the moment we’re still faced with the common misconception that a BTEC won’t get you into university, but obviously that’s not the case.

Obviously it’s not just about LSBU. We work for LSBU, we know that we’ve got the mechanisms here to support all our students including BTEC, but the idea is we are advocates of widening access to Higher Education and so wherever these students apply, wherever they go to in terms of Higher Education, we’ve been successful. We’ve been successful in creating that motivation.

It is sad about the perception of BTEC students but I think that is changing rapidly, particularly with the new type of BTECs now that have introduced that new academic rigor. BTEC students – yes, they have the practical skills, which we really value – but also they will now have that academic rigor, which some universities have thought was lacking before.
 

You keep talking about these new assessments and the rebound of BTECs. Do you have any statistics on the changes from the previous BTECs to now?

I think it’s too early days because they were only introduced in 2016, so we haven’t had the experience yet. I know that it’s only the one year BTEC courses that we could possibly assess.

I have had statistics from David Mackay at Pearson which show fewer distinctions, but universities like us who work with BTECs know that if a student has got a merit instead of a distinction it’s going to be a really good merit. To get a merit means they’ve achieved a really high standard. If universities understand the BTEC qualification – and we at London South Bank University really understand it – then I don’t see that they will have a problem.

 

"The new BTECs have introduced the academic rigor to the qualification, there’s now been the introduction of external examinations, synoptic assessments, more compulsory modules, so really they’re combining the best of both worlds. They’ve got the practical skills and they’ve got the academy rigor."

 
Can we talk about how the partnership between NewVic College and LSBU came about, because it’s really nice to see colleges and universities working together. This is the first time I’ve heard a university offering to teach BTEC college students from a university standard. How did that come about and what was your involvement in it as well?

You’re absolutely right, it’s really unique to have the level of partnership LSBU has with NewVic College. But to reach this level of partnership takes a lot of work.

We go back with NewVic College at least ten years, if not more, where we’ve done various activities with their students. Street Law is a project, which we’ve trained our own students to lead on. Our students have been into schools and colleges, like NewVic College and presented to school and college students on their rights and responsibilities and discussed topical issues, such as knife crime and misuse of social media. Our LSBU students also train NewVic students as well as other students, to perform in a mock trial. The school and college students find the experience exciting and gain confidence from performing in the mock trial.

We helped NewVic College devise a Youth Access Course. We helped them devise the units for that course. We’ve involved NewVic students in so many of our taster days, and the work that we’ve done together is many, many years old.

In the end, it culminated into this amazing project that we’re doing with their ICT BTEC students. But it does take many, many years to get to this stage, and a lot of trust on both sides. From those at NewVic College, if I’ve ever had any queries about the BTEC qualification, I know the tutors so well I only have to ask them and they’ll tell me about aspects of the qualification, because who knows that qualification better than the teachers that teach it? It’s because of this amazing relationship that we are where we are and you’re right, it is unique and that’s why we’re asked to speak about it at conferences.
 

I wonder why it is so unique and if there’s a window for LSBU and NewVic College to be the blueprint for getting other universities and colleges to do this as well.

Well I’m sure that many would be interested. We’ve been invited to talk at Brunel University Symposium on supporting the BTEC learner, and Jamie, my counterpart at NewVic College and I have been invited to co-present on our unique project, how it came about and where we are today. So I think others will follow.