From education to employment

Mergers on the agenda for FE colleges

A public consultation on ambitious proposals to merge two FE colleges was launched yesterday as the sector looks to consolidation to save costs.

Stroud College and Filton College, near Bristol, will discuss their plans with local people over the next five weeks as they hope to safeguard their future and create a new, unified college in January 2012.

The colleges believe a combined institution will provide “major benefits” and ensure a “sound future”, particularly in response to expected funding cuts over the next few years.
Mike Farmer, chair of Stroud College, said the plans were a “shared vision for learning in communities” and would like to “encourage people to read our consultation document and comment on the proposal online”.

John Huggett, chair of Filton College, said: “Our two colleges are very similar in terms of curriculum and performance, and this would ensure the rural towns between our two campuses are well-served by good vocational colleges.”

As FE control has passed back to local authorities, from the former Learning and Skills Council, many college principals fear the effects of a reduction in funding and added competition from private providers.

Last year the Skills Funding Agency commissioned a report carried out by accountancy firm KPMG which warned up to 100 colleges nationwide, almost a third, risked closure because of worsening finances.

Mr Farmer added: “This is a merger from a position of strength and the new college can be expected to maintain and improve performance whilst reducing costs and increasing participation.”

Both college governing bodies will consider public feedback until 20 July, before submitting a complete merger plan to the Minister of State for Further Education, John Hayes, for a final decision.

Filton College has an annual turnover of £23 million, employs 480 staff and delivers education and training to over 8000 16 to 18-year-olds and adults. The smaller Stroud College has a turnover of £10 million, employs 230 staff and teaches over 3000 16 to 18-year-olds and adults.

If approved, both colleges are likely to be dissolved so that a new college can be formed in January.

Meanwhile, two Greater London colleges have been granted ministerial approval to amalgamate into a single institution in August.

The decision was announced last Friday after the Bromley and Orpington Colleges proposal had received widespread support during a public consultation running from October of last year, including endorsement from local MPs.

Sam Parrett, principal of Bromley College, said: “A huge amount of work has gone into the merger, and I would like to pay tribute to everyone whose efforts have earned us this resounding endorsement of our vision for Bromley College.”

Both colleges will retain separate campuses and have already begun recruiting for 2011’s intake of students.

At a time when the government is reportedly wary of college mergers, the Bromley and Orpington Colleges proposal is only the second of its kind to be approved since the Coalition came to power in May 2010.

Jake Ryan

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