Higher Vocational Education in England in the 2010s: Positioning, Purpose, and Possibilities in a Highly Stratified, High Participation System of Higher Education

Ann-Marie Bathmaker, Kevin Orr

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Higher vocational education (HVE) has a long history in England, with Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and Higher National Certificates (HNCs) introduced nearly 100 years ago. Since then, HVE qualifications and further education (FE) colleges that are key providers of HVE have moved in and out of the gaze of policymakers. While universities are also providers of vocationally oriented higher education, particularly at bachelor level, over the past three decades higher education (HE) offered in FE colleges has comprised around 10 per cent of all HE provision. This is despite many changes in government and policy that have significantly affected what HVE involves. In this chapter we consider HVE in England during the 2010s, focusing on provision in FE colleges, especially sub-bachelor level qualifications. We provide a picture of HVE’s functions and the distinctive form that HVE has taken in England, based on available statistical data. We examine the different purposes ascribed to HVE by policymakers, the colleges that provide HVE, as well as students taking HVE courses, and we explore how and whether HVE may contribute to opening up access to higher level education. We argue that during the last decade, an ideology of market competition has been more important in determining HVE’s form and function than other drivers, including meeting the apparent needs of employers for skilled workers. Despite the stated intentions of government policy to diversify HE, and considerable work on the development of new higher level technical routes, the functioning of the market promoted during this period has tended to marginalize anything but bachelor-level HE offered in HE institutions. In this context, we discuss the positioning of HVE in relation to the fields of ‘higher’ and ‘further’ education in England and ask what the implications are of positioning HVE as a form of higher vocational education, located within the FE and skills field, compared with viewing HVE as vocational higher education, which is associated with the HE field. Finally, we question whether and how under current conditions HVE can be a resource to enhance social justice in and through education.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEquity and Access to High Skills through Higher Vocational Education
EditorsElizabeth Knight, Ann-Marie Bathmaker, Gavin Moodie, Kevin Orr, Susan Webb, Leesa Wheelahan
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan, Cham
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9783030845025
ISBN (Print)9783030845018
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2022

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning
PublisherPalgrave MacMillan
ISSN (Print)2524-6313
ISSN (Electronic)2524-6321


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