Thames Valley University is to merge with Reading College to create the UK's most advanced hybrid further and higher education institution.
The merged institution, which bills itself as a "vocational" university, will have 45,000 students, making it one of the largest in the country, behind London Metropolitan and Leeds Metropolitan universities. Some 30 per cent of its students - expressed as full-time equivalents - will be in further education, with the remaining 70 per cent in higher education.
Vice-chancellor Geoff Crispin said: "I have no doubt that the merger has been approved and supported by so many different agencies and individuals because it is recognised that the enlarged Thames Valley University is uniquely placed to meet the challenges the government has presented to further and higher education. I am confident that we can become a vocational institution of world-class repute."
The merger creates a new type of institution. Most universities do not have any further education students; those that do typically have just a few hundred.
In England, only Derby and possibly Leeds Metropolitan universities have more than 10 per cent of their students in further education. Some 5 to 10 per cent of students at De Montfort, London Metropolitan and Salford universities are in further education.
A spokesman for the university said that Thames Valley was different from these institutions because it would give equal commitment to further and higher education.
He said: "The difference is clear: this is a further education-higher education institution and not a higher education institution with further education tacked on. Given our commitment to progression, that's important.
"In the areas in which we are big -healthcare, catering and hospitality - the distinction between further and higher education is not easily appreciated. We want to preserve that interesting balance."
The university will encourage and enable progression within and between further and higher education. Following the merger, it will have its own sixth form academy, offering A-level and GCSE courses.
Fred McCrindle, principal of Reading College, said: "The merger presents the opportunity to develop an institute capable of providing both academic and vocational training programmes from entry level to postgraduate studies."
The merger is being partially financed by a £1 million grant and £1 million loan from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Sir Howard Newby, Hefce chief executive, said: "It is a very good example of a university and a further education institution uniting to widen and increase participation for young and mature non-traditional students in their area."
The original plans for the merger were viewed with suspicion by other further education colleges in the area, which were concerned that they would lose students to the merged institution. Permission was granted after a public consultation.
Following the completion of the necessary legal arrangements, the new university will come into being on January 1 2004. It is expected to retain the name of Thames Valley University.
ROAD TO HEALTH
* November 1998 Quality Assurance Agency report reveals TVU's academic standards are "under threat"
* April 1999 TVU submits recovery plan. saying it will stop subsidising further education students from the higher education budget
* July 1999 QAA gives undergraduate courses a clean bill of health
* July 2002 TVU amongthe first to offer foundation degrees
* April 2003 QAA endorses university's academic quality and standards.