Tag Archives: ACP

College of Higher Education: a third space or a thousand miles?

Colleges of (or including) higher education teach – among other courses at other levels – courses leading to degrees of higher education: Foundation Degrees (UK QCF levels 4 and 5), Bachelors Degrees (sometimes just called higher education degree, UK QCF levels 4, 5, 6) and Post Graduate Certificates, Diplomas and Masters Degrees (UK QCF level 7). Staff who teach on these programmes may have doctorates or be undertaking doctoral level study, but the institution probably is not, itself, teaching doctoral level courses.

Personal disclaimer: I attended a College of Higher Education in the USA for my first degree. There were about 2,800 students (600 in each of four undergraduate years and about 400 Post Grads). There were niche pockets of research (Super Glue “Locktite” was developed by a Prof there). I worked for 3 years about 20 hours a week in kitchens: initially the College Kitchens where “student-aid” work was a source of cheap labour (Buildings and Grounds was also a big employer of student-aid “leaf sweepers”). I would have failed the university league tables for graduate-level employment. I have since taught briefly in UK FE: I taught IT to brickies, sparks and chippies. I taught community and adult education courses for many years in rooms in schools, FE colleges, adult colleges, polytechnics and universities mostly in Oxford, Reading and Newbury.

Colleges have a particular resonances in the UK: Eton is a college. Oxbridge has colleges. There is Sheffield College, Coleg Gwent and Oxford and Cherwell Valley colleges. There is Ruskin College and Coleg Harlech and Lews Castle College. Lews Castle, for example, has research centres of excellence in a few niche areas: renewable energy research, health, and rural development and Education/pedagogical research. How does that coffee smell?

It is probably not right to describe Colleges of HE as places “between” FE and HE, though the institutional (political, cultural and economic) structures in the UK at present encourage this “between-ness”. As long as “we” feel “we” are between “them”; or “we” feel “they” are between “us” there are power or “face” differentials applied that can be converted to some kind of symbolic (often employment: principal or labour) capital.

But, this categorical thinking is also problematic. Should HE Colleges have a new and identifiable status against FE and HE and on a par with both? OK. Which ones? Those in country parkland or special output areas? Those with 14-18 provision included in the mix? How much HE does there have to be? My plumber is grounded in German Literature. The builder who knocked our brick terrace ground floor into one studied politics.

Are HE colleges hybrid (Simmons and Lea 2013, 4) “third spaces” where institutional identity is negotiated against two originary cultures (HE and FE)? Or are HE colleges a thousand miles apart? And if so apart from which originary culture?

Simmons, Jonathan, and John Lea. 2013. “Capturing an HE Ethos in College Higher Education Practice”. QAA 576 1 2 / 13. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. http://www.qaa.ac.uk/Publications/InformationAndGuidance/Documents/HE-ethos-Lea-Simmons-2013.pdf.