Boles warning over fresh college mergers

Boles warning over fresh college mergers

Three more college link-ups have been announced as the Skills Minister Nick Boles warned against colleges rushing into mergers ahead of their area reviews.

The latest potential mergers, involving three general FE colleges, two sixth form colleges (SFCs) and a university, add to the 15 previously reported by FE Week as being on the cards for 2016.

All of these latest announcements have been made while the colleges’ respective area reviews are still ongoing, or before they have started.

During House of Commons education questions on April 25, Mr Boles cautioned: “In general, we do not want mergers to be rushed into before an area review has had a chance to look at the provision in a whole area.”

But Shrewsbury College (SC) confirmed on April 21 that it would join forces with Shrewsbury SFC (SSFC) on July 31 — following a consultation on a possible three-way merger also involving New College Telford (NCT), an SFC.

Meanwhile, NCT announced on April 22 it is no longer looking at linking up with SC and SSFC, and is instead in talks about a possible merger with Telford College of Arts and Technology (TCAT).

All four colleges are part of the Marches and Worcestershire area review, in wave two of the area reviews, which had its first steering group meeting on January 18, and is yet to conclude.

Fiona O’Brien, NCT principal, said: “From our discussions in recent weeks, it has become increasingly clear that the benefits of merging our two Telford-based colleges have overwhelming advantages for learners in the borough.”

The “reluctance” of learners to travel from Telford to Shrewsbury was one of the reasons cited by Ms O’Brien for the change of plan.

Merging the two Telford-based colleges was also the “preferred option” of the area review panel, she added.

Jo Lomax, TCAT interim principal, said “this is a merger which makes sense on many levels, and that there is enthusiasm on both sides to see if we can make it happen”.

Newham College, part of the London (East) area review in wave three of the reviews, which will hold its first steering group on May 10, also announced on April 21 that it had formed a strategic alliance with the University of East London.

The two institutions aim to develop a “more coordinated approach” to FE and HE provision in the area through the partnership, the college said in a statement.

Di Gowland, Newham College principal, said: “This will enable Newham College and the University of East London to develop an unrivalled range of seamless education opportunities for both local people and our wider communities.”

News of the partnership comes after Bury College announced earlier this month that it was planning to merge with the University of Bolton.