The title of ‘college’ appears to be coming back into sector fashion — and even worth fighting for, just ask Newcastle College principal Carole Kitching. Ruth Sparkes considers whether it, like ‘university’, should be protected.

After news that Newcastle College Group (NCG) successfully, and legally stopped a mystery outfit calling itself Newcastle College Ltd from trading under that name, it’s probably worth considering just what value there is in our institutions’ brands.

Other than one business trying to pass itself off as another, which is a suspect practice to say the least, it’s interesting to consider that some highly regarded and well-established colleges have changed their names — an important part of any brand.

Some colleges have dropped the word ‘college’ from their titles. Indeed, it was a bit of a trend a few years ago, but I think the word college is coming back ‘en vogue.’

I suspect the college rebrand with the most press coverage was Lesoco (or LeSoCo as it had said). Born out of the Lewisham and Southwark colleges’ merger, it has since become Lewisham Southwark College. West Notts College became Vision, now it’s Vision West Nottinghamshire College.

Newcastle College (the real one) is part of this gang, sort of. As the institution grew, it took over or merged with other colleges
and independent training providers, and became NCG.

As I think many of these other colleges at one time or another have claimed, NCG is more than a college.

A cursory glance at its corporate website details its might. It is a collection of FE colleges, a sixth form, a training provider, a free school and more besides.

It boasts a turnover of more than £179m, has the largest Education Funding Agency contract in the UK, its own degree-awarding powers, delivers around 20,000 apprenticeships a year and employs thousands of staff. Arguably, the word ‘college’ is not enough.

Why, I wonder did the former ‘Newcastle College Ltd’ ever take it on? Perhaps it thought it could operate under the radar — that it could piggyback on NCG’s mighty brand. Or maybe it thought NCG was so big, it’d never notice?

Is there an argument for more control over the terms ‘college’, ‘school’ or ‘academy’, to help make sure that everyone understands what sort of learning institution it might be?

But there are plenty of organisations wanting to call themselves a ‘college’ — it is such an accessible word.

Schools call themselves colleges, ‘Anytown Community College’. Some independent learning providers call themselves colleges, and some private colleges that might be legitimate or dodgy ‘visa factories’ have also used the term ‘college.’

Is this practice a deception? Are these institutions deliberately using the term
college to present themselves as something they are not?

Can similar be said for the term ‘academy’? The Royal Academy of Music is a long way from being like the O2 Academies in Bristol, Brixton or Newcastle, and even further away from the Marlowe Academy, in Ramsgate.

And schools, they can be nurseries, primaries, secondaries or even higher education institutions. The AA’s driving school offer, for example, would never be confused with the courses at the London School of Economics (LSE).

So, the only term that is very rarely ‘misused’ for the UK’s education institutions is the word ‘university’.

And that’s because the use of the term ‘university’ in any institution’s title requires the government’s consent.

University is a title that has to be earned, to be applied for and is generally seen as an achievement when the title is eventually bestowed. Ror example Falmouth School of Art, became Falmouth University College and then Falmouth University. King Alfred’s College became University College Winchester, then the University of Winchester.

So, is there an argument for more control over the terms ‘college’, ‘school’ or ‘academy’, to help make sure that everyone understands what sort of learning institution it might be? Would it be better if these titles had to be earned and bestowed like the word university? And what value does the word college really have when so many are prepared to ditch it, even if it is a trial separation?