Futuring ‘further’; HE in FE in the Anthropocene, by Sarah Crowson

Futuring ‘further’; HE in FE in the Anthropocene

By Sarah Crowson

For this think piece I’ve chosen the term ‘HE in FE’ rather than the more commonly used ‘college HE’ or ‘college-based HE’ to describe those providers who deliver higher level qualifications whilst drawing down funding from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). This is because the word ‘further’ implies a journey. It’s a word that suggests movement, a furthering forward to a ‘something’ in the distance (etymological dictionaries suggests it means ‘onward, beyond, more distant, later, afterward’). They also tell us that ‘further’ stems from old English rather than a latinate stem. This is interesting if we consider how many current customs and hierarchies also stem from a Latinate tradition rather than from older stories and structures, folklore, and ways of understanding our worlds.

‘Further’ a word that looks outside its immediate confines - farther into the distance, further on, somewhere in a space that Henri Lefebvre describes as ‘the furthest edge of the possible’ (Lefebvre, 1972). 

This think piece will explore this ‘furthering’ and distance-gazing to find out if there lies a potential imaginary for HE in FE as something rooted in both local and global; as a structure that facilitates communities to become finders of questions, problem-solvers and activists. This is not a narrow vision for HE in FE.  On the contrary, I offer here a radical alternative vision for HE in FE, one which goes beyond current policy narratives, but is implicit within notions of `skill’ and `knowledge exchange’.

Given the imperative global concerns that currently assail our planet; climate change, plastics, scarcity of resources, we need to look both beyond narrow meanings for any type of education. In my imagining, HE in FE is a co-operative educational space which offers resources for scaled-down and scaled-up mass problem-solving in the social. Embracing some of the ambiguities of creative arts pedagogies and practice (Orr and Shreeve, 2018) and drawing on ideas of socially engaged practice, active citizenship (GuildHE, 2016) and Neary’s work (2019) on co-operative education in the UK and the dialogic, radical nature of post-humanist pedagogies (Sidebottom, 2018) and some art school practice.

Imagine a future where each FE ‘college’ structure is co-operative, with stakeholders owning the business model. There can be multiple stakeholders, including, for example, the local community, but networked to other, global co-operative communities. Neary (2019) suggests we might look at the Co-operative College and the Feral Art School as an example of this (Neary, 2019). Within this vision, HE provision is not business driven or capitalist in its approach to education but instead rooted within the community; perceiving scholarship as being in service to a population rather than in the pursuit of funding, cultural capital or the production of knowledge tied to financial gains and neoliberal agendas.

A co-operative future might bring key differences in the landscape of HE in FE. Imagine if learning is not ‘levelled’ in the same sense as it is in the current educational landscape. Qualifications are still awarded vertically, but alongside this is a more diachronic understanding of learning, which recognises ‘questions found’ and the application of disparate ideas and skills as valid learning. This more qualitative approach to measuring learning might support HE in FE as an open, accessible place to practice less-formal learning in a way which is meaningful to individuals.

The purpose of this HE in FE is thus flexible and place-based, based on response and dialogue between the local and the national rather than simply being identified with a variety of disparate fixed institutional places. It self-identifies with a wider ecosystem, which offers resources and structures that enable individuals or groups to come up with critical answers to curious questions and suggest (and sometimes implement) solutions in a variety of problem-spaces. It is part of a wider, global structure, where ideas are shared and amplified throughout a network of practitioners.

Crucially, this notion of HE in FE is cross-disciplinary. Skills are taught in discipline specific groups (they have to be) but learning is swiftly applied to real-life problems or student-generated questions. Alongside skills, teaching runs ethics learning, critical thinking and empathy teaching, so that individuals develop the ability to see ideas from different perspectives.

Creative pedagogies are also at the heart of this model. Teaching takes place in studios, in real-life, in workshops and in lecture rooms - it moves between environments, and teacher-student hierarchies are equally flexible, dependent on context. Students are encouraged to challenge, question and move between disciplines. One of the great features of my Utopian HE in FE is that students can freely move on exchange programmes; from rural to urban, across disciplines, across continents. And the digital is used to share experiences and support learning curves.

In this vision, students would be whoever walks in with a skill to learn or a question to ask. Again, drawing on Neary’s work (Neary, in Lea, 2015) this is a limitless education space, which uses data to enable connections and discussion. Borrowing from the best of social media, a student could join one day and then not say anything for two years - but then find a question or place they felt comfortable and become a part of this inquiry.

Drawing on post-humanist approaches to understanding our worlds, this HE in FE recognises non-humans; animals and objects as important in the learning environment and essential to developing problem-solving strategies which have potential to mitigate some of the crisis caused man’s impact on the planet – not just offering a space where local questions are investigated but encouraging global questions.

FE has always focussed on technical skills and expertise and embodied learning. In a possible future for ‘HE in FE’ the power of scholarship and deep knowledge is used as a way to broaden out how these skills and learnings can be applied. Essentially, this is knowledge being put to the service of wider problem-solving.

Sarah Crowson is Scholarship and Enterprise Development Manager at Hereford College of Arts



GuildHE (2016) Active Citizenship: the role of Higher Education. Available at https://guildhe.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/6710-Guild-HE-Active-Citizenship-Report-44pp.pdf, Accessed 12.9.19

Neary, M (2019) Student as Producer: the theory, practice and culture of co-operative higher education, Keynote presentation, CSpace Conference, Birmingham City University, July 10 2019

Neary, M., & Winn, J. (2016). Beyond public and private: a framework for co-operative higher education. Available at http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/23051/1/Co-opHEconferencepaper2016.pdf. Accessed 12.9.19

Neary, M. in Lea, J. (2015) Enhancing Learning And Teaching In Higher Education: Engaging With The Dimensions Of Practice. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Orr, S., & Shreeve, A. (2017). Art and design pedagogy in higher education: Knowledge, values and ambiguity in the creative curriculum. London: Routledge.