Its roots lie in a decision taken in the mid-1980s by the city council - then led by David Blunkett, the current Home Secretary - to scrap school sixth forms and introduce a tertiary system.
But after objections from some of the city's top-performing schools, the then Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph ruled that schools in the affluent south-west of the city should be allowed to keep their sixth forms.
Parents scrambled to get into the catchment area for these schools, leaving FE colleges with a skewed intake. In the poorer north, college was the only option.
Sheffield, a giant institution created in 1992 out of six former colleges, struggled amid vacillating government policies on funding.
At one time it operated from 108 sites and had severe management information system problems.
In 2000 the college was castigated by inspectors for low standards of governance and management. It was placed in special measures but has since come out of them.