An exploration of the nature and meaning of transitions in the context of dual sector fe/he institutions in England

Institutions in transition in the English higher education system

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Institutions in transition in the English higher education system

Following Trow’s (1973) definition, the English higher education system has been in transition from an elite to a mass and now nearly universal system since the Robbins Report of the 1960s (CHE, 1963). However, it would be more accurate to describe the current system as an elite, mass and universal system all at the same time, with different parts of the system functioning in different ways.

A development in the ‘universal’ part of the system is an increasing role for ‘dual sector’ or ‘hybrid’ institutions. These institutions offer a range of higher education qualifications, in particular two year vocational Foundation degrees. As they become bigger players in the higher education field, these institutions are undergoing processes of transition as they work to position and sometimes to reinvent themselves within the field.

Such work may include the amalgamation of institutions, the formation of partnerships between institutions, the acquisition of new buildings, and changes to the role of particular spaces and places, such as the creation of HE-specific teaching environments, or study centres for dissertation students. This shaping and forming of institutional cultures and identities has been connected to the notion of institutional habitus by Reay, David and Ball (2005). They use ‘habitus’ to draw attention to how organisational cultures are linked to the wider fields in which institutions operate, whereby an institutional habitus embodies structures in the wider field, but there is also a process of mutual shaping and reshaping – an interplay of structure and agency, but always within the context of the power of the field. One of the things we have found is that ‘hybrid’ institutions do not have only one institutional culture or habitus. Instead there may be a culture that relates to the FE field, and another culture that relates to the HE field.

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