College brand needs protection

1st May 2009 at 01:00

What's in a name?, we ask, believing that substance and message alone matter. What does college mean to you?

When The Times reports (April 15) on the corruption threatening national security represented by private, unregulated "colleges" that offer places to illegal immigrants, it is time to ask: "Who should be entitled to call themselves colleges?" It causes me, and I suspect other college principals, embarrassment to be lumped in with educational travesties of this sort.

There is also a problem at the other end of the spectrum, with schools permitted to call themselves colleges - whether of technology or performing arts - when they are clearly schools. They are not community- facing institutions, they do not attempt to rectify problems in the local economy and they do not have strong links with local or regional universities. What they have is a branding to distinguish them, slightly, from other comprehensive schools. That's important, but it doesn't make them colleges.

If government believes in supporting the skills agenda seriously, it should back bona fide colleges (of further education, tertiary or sixth form variety) by denying to others the appellation college.

Fanciful? French champagne producers won their case in the European courts. You have to be French to produce champagne. Perhaps you should be a real college to deserve the name - in the same way that tutorial centres cannot call themselves universities and so on.

The name college is clearly desirable. It should be premier cru and protected as such. It is not vin ordinaire.

Nigel Robbins, Principal, Cirencester College.

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