Colley, Helen, Chadderton, Charlotte and Nixon, Lauren (2014) Collaboration and contestation in further and higher education partnerships in England: a Bourdieusian field analysis. Critical Studies in Education, 55 (2). pp. 104-121. ISSN 1750-8487

Internationally, ‘College for All’ policies are creating new forms of vocational higher education (HE), and shifting relationships between HE and further education (FE) institutions. In this paper, we consider the way in which this is being implemented in England, drawing on a detailed qualitative case study of a regional HE–FE partnership to widen participation. We focus on the complex mix of collaboration and contestation that arose within it, and how these affected socially differentiated groups of students following high- and low-status routes through its provision. We outline Bourdieu’s concept of ‘field’ as a framework for our analysis and interpretation, including its theoretical ambiguities regarding the definition and scale of fields. Through hermeneutic dialogue between data and theory, we tentatively suggest that such partnerships represent bridges between HE and FE. These bridges are strong between higher-status institutions, but highly contested between lower-status institutions competing closely for distinction. We conclude that the trajectories and outcomes for socially disadvantaged students require attention and collective action to address the inequalities they face, and that our theoretical approach may have wider international relevance beyond the English case.

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