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Colleges Week 2022: A look at the rich history of colleges

Colleges have been around in name at least for almost 800 years. They’ve seen 35 monarchs and 55 Prime Ministers come and go. They’ve been under local authority control and incorporated. They’ve seen new quangos rise and fall, along with a myriad of funding streams and mechanisms designed to prove their worth.

As we enter Colleges Week 2022, I’ve selected some dates across the centuries to show how much change has occurred since that very first mention of the word “college” and what some of the new challenges are that they may need to face. 

The timeline of colleges

1249: University College founded – the first Oxford college and first known use of the word “college”.

1783: Manchester – the College of Arts and Science was established, but short-lived.

1848: William Ellis – opened his first 'Birkbeck' school in the hall of the London Mechanics' Institute, the very same year that NCFE’s founding organisation was established.

1883: Finsbury Technical College – founded by the City and Guilds of London Institute and recognised as the first technical college.

1913: Federation of Educational Societies – established to coordinate the provision of adult education.

1944: Education Act (3 August) – the 'Butler Act' set the structure of the post-war system of state education and was ground-breaking in its scope.

1978: Youth Opportunities Programme (April) – launched for 16- to 18-year-olds.

1983: Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) – pilot schemes began.

1985: Further Education Act (16 July) – empowered local education authorities to supply goods and services through further education establishments.

1992: Further and Higher Education Act (6 March) – removed further education and sixth form colleges from LEA control and established Further Education Funding Councils (FEFCs).

1996: The Association of Colleges (AoC), a not-for-profit membership organisation in England set up by colleges to act as their collective voice, is founded.

1999: White Paper Learning to Succeed: a new framework for post-16 learning (June) – proposed Individual Learning Accounts and the University for Industry (UfI).

2011: Wolf Report Vocational Education (March) – one of the seminal reports into education at pre- and post-16 levels, which made wide-ranging recommendations on 14-19 education.

What about the present day?

You’ll notice that there are many recent reports, acts and policies that aren’t included in my timeline above, such as the Tomlinson Report (2004), College of the Future project and the more recent Skills and Post-16 Education Act (2022). This isn’t deliberate, but there is still a degree of flux happening that colleges are having to deal with!

The last 20 years have seen some of the most dynamic changes in post-16 education policy, and no doubt the next 20 may see the same. Colleges have an intrinsic and essential role to play, now and in the future. They are key to delivering technical education to hundreds of thousands of learners across all ages, sectors and regions.

As well as delivering this education, they are also employers with many staff and other organisations depending on them for employment and ancillary business such as transport, retail and hospitality. Their campuses are easily recognisable and, in many cases, newly designed buildings leading the way in modern architecture and green credentials by using sustainable power sources and eco-friendly materials.

Looking to the future

But what about the future history of colleges? What will people say in 10, 20 or even 100 years’ time? Will they still take the same form, and will they be as recognisable as they are now?

The college of the future will need to be as accessible as it is now. It will need to embrace modern ways of working and teaching if it hasn’t done so already. This could include increased use of virtual, alternative reality and enhanced AI technologies; becoming more than an education hub and expanding wider the community, business and social activities; and driving new and personalised learning programmes that meet immediate needs, as well as life goals and aspirations with just in time, drop in learning a regular occurrence.

Colleges are part of our education DNA, and they always will be. We need to ensure that whatever the future has in store for them, their core function and purpose remains protected and sustainable.

To find out more about Colleges Week 2022, you can visit the webpage or join in the conversation using the hashtag #CollegesWeek on social media.


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