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

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Positioning themselves: An exploration of the nature and meaning of transitions in the context of dual sector FE/HE institutions in England
Ann-Marie Bathmaker, UWE Bristol, UK

Will Thomas, Suffolk College, UK

Paper presented at the International Conference on researching transitions in lifelong learning at the University of Stirling, 22 - 24 June 2007.


This paper considers transitions in the context of higher education in England, drawing on insights from a research study into higher education transitions and ‘dual sector’ institutions. Although further and higher education in England are divided into two sectors, it is possible for one institution to offer both further and higher education. This paper examines the nature of transitions in such ‘dual sector’ institutions, and explores the shaping and structuring of HE transitions, as well as students’ experience of such transitions.

The paper reports on empirical research from a two year study which has used both quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate the changing shape and experience of HE in England. The qualitative strand of the study has involved in-depth studies of four institutions and has followed 80 students moving between further and higher education. The fieldwork has included interviews with students, tutors and institutional managers, documentary analysis, and the collection of fieldwork observation records, and it is this strand of the study that forms the basis for this paper.

The paper discusses a number of different forms of transition which arise out of the analysis of the data: institutions in transition, transitions in institutions and individual student transitions, and draws on Bourdieu’s theoretical ideas to argue that the work that transition is doing in the case study institutions might be seen as involving processes of ‘positioning’, whereby institutions and individuals work at defining their place within higher education. Since such positioning both highlights and helps to create a differentiated and stratified system, the paper concludes by pointing to the unsettling and complex issues this raises in relation to social justice and equity.


Ann-Marie Bathmaker, Professor of Applied Research in Further Education and Lifelong Learning, Faculty of Education, University of the West of England, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol BS16 1QY, UK.

Will Thomas, Research Officer, Centre for Research into Educational Applications of Telematics, Suffolk College, Ipswich, IP4 1LT, UK.

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