The great college merger ‘rush’

The great college merger 'rush'

> Exclusive analysis finds potential for 15 mergers in 2016
> Union warns of time needed for meaningful consultation

Bury College is in talks over a potential merger with a nearby university, becoming one of up to 15 mergers involving 32 institutions across the country.

Bury is expected to launch a consultation into plans to merge with the University of Bolton in the next few days.

It comes as a spokesperson for Bolton College confirmed that it is also in discussions with the higher education body.

Both colleges are part of the Greater Manchester area review, in wave one of the area reviews, which launched last September.

Bury College’s principal, Charlie Deane said the college had “taken advantage of the area review process to further develop and strengthen” the college’s existing “excellent working relationship” with the university.

The proposed merger “provides a considered and innovative opportunity to offer a more comprehensive, flexible and responsive curriculum,” Mr Deane continued, “with the potential to improve access and increase choice for a broader range of learners at all levels”.

“More details will begin to take shape as our discussions, proposals and consultations with stakeholders evolve,” he said.

Bolton College is in early stage discussions with the university “regarding an educational solution that works for Bolton”, a spokesperson for the college said.

A spokesperson for the University of Bolton said it welcomed the current proposals by Bury College, and the commitment by Bolton College.

The Bury College proposal is the latest of 15 possible mergers, involving 28 FE colleges, three sixth form colleges and one university, all of which are proposed for August 1.

This compares to just nine mergers in the ten years from 2001 and 2010, under the previous funding agency, the Learning and Skills Council, according to figures published by the department for Business Innovation and Skills.

Consultations are currently open on mergers between South Worcestershire College and

Warwickshire College Group; City and Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College; Bexley College and Bromley College; Bournville College and South and City College.

Further mergers are planned for New College Nottingham and Central College Nottingham; Barrow Sixth Form College and Furness College; and South Leicestershire College and North Warwickshire and Hinckley College.

Decisions have not yet been published following consultation earlier this year on mergers between Shrewsbury College and New College Telford, and Lowestoft College, Great Yarmouth College and Lowestoft Sixth Form College.

Hackney Community College and Tower Hamlets College confirmed in March that they will be merging.

Carlisle College is in discussions about merging with Newcastle College Group (NCG), while Lewisham Southwark College has been in talks with a view to ‘closer working’ with NCG.

Last month Northbrook College and neighbouring City College Brighton and Hove announced their intention to merge later in the year.

On seeing the FE Week analysis (pictured), Sally Hunt, General Secretary of University and College Union said: ‘It is not a surprise that so many colleges are rushing to merge given the massive budget cuts they have endured in recent years.

But any proposed changes should be subject to thorough and meaningful consultation with unions, students and the wider community.”

“Colleges are central to improving the life chances of their local communities, and UCU will work hard both to protect our members’ jobs and defend local educational opportunities where mergers put them at risk.”

Given the scale of proposed mergers, a spokesperson for the Association of Colleges said: “Whether colleges are already in the area review process or waiting for their wave to start, they are increasingly aware of how they can prepare for potential recommendations, how they can shape their own futures, and how they can engage with potential partners.

“Throughout this period, colleges will remain focused on what students want and need in order to go on to further or higher level study or join the workforce.”