Gazelle founders stand firm amid college withdrawal

Gazelle’s five founder colleges have re-affirmed their commitment to the organisation with the announcement that one college was set to quit the group amid claims it could spend membership fees better elsewhere.

Gloucestershire College, which has more than 7,000 learners and dished out around £130,000 in membership fees and staff training costs to Gazelle since it joined nearly three years ago, told FE Week it would not be a member next academic year.

“Following a consultation exercise with staff earlier this year, and the resulting launch of a new strategic plan, the college has decided that the financial outlay could be utilised more effectively in driving our enterprise agenda forward internally, using the talent and expertise of our staff,” said the college’s head of communications, Michelle Cant.

However, the loss of the college did not appear to have shaken the faith of Gazelle founders City College Norwich, North Hertfordshire College, New College Nottingham, Gateshead College and Warwickshire College. They responded to FE Week with a generic statement saying they “intend to remain [in Gazelle] for the foreseeable future”.

The same statement was sent by City College Plymouth and Highbury College, while a spokesperson for Activate Learning said: “I can confirm that we remain a member and we do expect to remain a member to the end of the academic year.” A spokesperson for Glasgow Kelvin College said it “continually reviews all subscriptions on an annual basis.”

But a question mark remains over future involvement of the remaining 13 member colleges who did not respond to FE Week.

Gazelle chief executive Fintan Donohue said: “The membership of the Gazelle Colleges Group has always evolved and changed — each year there are new colleges that join and a very small minority that retire. We have every indication that the vast majority of members wish to sustain their membership going forward.”

News of Gloucestershire’s impending exit comes after FE Week revealed that most member colleges inspected since joining Gazelle had not improved their Ofsted ratings, despite the fact its membership pumped a total of £3.5m into the organisation up until June, leading to criticism from the University and College Union.

Mr Donohue defended the organisation at the time, claiming “enrichment of student experiences and outcomes” was its “overriding goal”.

Nevertheless, Gloucestershire College’s spend on Gazelle services includes three years of membership fees at £35,000 per year and more than £26,000 for staff development and student “educational experience”.

Ms Cant said: “Our commitment to the entrepreneurial ethos of the Gazelle Group remains and will continue to be reflected in our future plans, alongside our focus on meaningful work experience through internships and volunteering. Our priority is delivering excellence and equipping all students with the skills for success beyond college, and we are grateful to Gazelle for the positive contribution and opportunities it has provided over the past three years.”

No response was received from Amersham and Wycombe College, Barking and Dagenham College, Cambridge Regional College, Cardiff and Vale College, Carlisle College, City of Bath College, Lesoco, Middlesborough College, Peterborough Regional College, Preston’s College, South West College, City of Liverpool or The Sheffield College.