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

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East Heath College in transition

East Heath College is currently one of the largest mixed-economy colleges in the country. It was formed in 1957 when various local institutions were brought together to form the ‘Civic College’. In 1974, the name was changed to East Heath College of Further and Higher Education – the name reflecting the fact that the College had been delivering CNAA awards since 1968. In the 1980s this provision grew significantly in partnership with a number of validating partners. A sole validating partner agreement with a nearby pre-1992 university (University A) was signed in 1992.

However, in August 2007, the college’s Further and Higher Education provision are being divided into two separate organisations. The split may be interpreted as a strategic ‘re-positioning’ of the provision of post-compulsory education within the catchment of East Heath College. Rather than a blurring of the boundaries between the FE and HE sectors, the creation of New East Heath College and University Centre East Heath re-establishes the separation of the two sectors and underlines the stratification of the education system.

The table (see below) provides a picture of current institutional structures, and the reconfiguration that will take place from August 2007.

What has prompted this re-positioning of HE? In part, the creation of UCEH is a response to the lack of a university within the county. Rhetoric surrounding the creation of UCEH makes it clear that the institution does not view its role as purely one of widening participation; the institution’s website claims that its role is to “staunch [East Heath’s] brain drain which sees students migrate to other counties”.

UCEH is also keen to define itself solely as an HE provider in a system which is stratified and differentiated at a policy and funding level. This strategy enables it to distinguish its provision from the old FE/HE college and from the new FE college. The latter distinction is particularly important; the success of UCEH is dependent on being able to show local people that it is an institution operating on a par with other universities and that it has moved away from the current perception of “The Civic College”. The strategic repositioning of HE delivery in an institution aligned with (although not part of) the HE sector concerns the public perception of quality: that mixed-economy institutions provide lower quality HE than institutions which focus solely on HE delivery.

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