In a move designed to encourage lifelong learning, five north London colleges have joined forces to create a higher education and training partnership, which will become a benchmark for other partnerships in the country.
Barnet, Harlow, North East London and Waltham Forest colleges have linked up with Middlesex University to try to make the transition from further to higher education seamless, accessible and cost-effective. By pooling their resources, the north London region should benefit from a consolidated approach to further education.
Professor Michael Driscoll, vice-chancellor of Middlesex University, said: "Students from across the region will be able to take courses from pre-degree to postgraduate level. They will be able to progress without unnecessary barriers to the highest levels of academic achievement."
The alliance wants to make education more responsive to the demands of employers, using the colleges' various skills spanning academic, professional and vocational teaching.
The North American telecommunications company Nortel and the pharmaceutical company Smithkline Beecham, both based in Harlow, are to talk to the colleges about what they want from employees.
David Ellerby, principal of Harlow College, said: "Harlow is a very high-tech area employing 3,500 graduates in research and development. It is business partnerships like these which we can bring to the alliance, and will benefit everyone."
The colleges will also be able to build upon their established "credit accumulation" process, where students can study part-time degrees in mathematics, sociology or information technology. After three years they can finish the courses at Middlesex University.
As IT will be one of the key areas of skill sharing among the colleges, the alliance will strengthen University for Industry projects. North London College has just made a successful #163;1 million bid for a Centre of Excellence in IT. Harlow has just received #163;404,000 for its UFI project.
By harnessing the colleges' expertise, a more flexible, local education will be achieved, say the principals. "We want people to expend their energies in higher education learning, not in the often fruitless task of finding where and how they can access higher education," says Mr Ellerby.
The north London partnership is part of a growing collaboration between FE colleges and universities nationwide.