Bexley College, Bromley College and Greenwich College are merging from August 1. Sam Parrett, who will lead the new London South East Colleges Group, explains why she thinks this will be good for staff, students and the local community.
Mergers are certainly the order of the day in the FE sector. The colleges involved believe that combining forces will place them in a stronger position and secure their long term future – following a “bigger is better” mindset.
And for many mergers, this is the case. Spurred on by area reviews and tough economic climates, it is the obvious option for many colleges.
However, a merger isn’t always the right answer for every institution.
As has already been shown with the outcomes from the first area reviews, a merger is no silver bullet.
Several high-profile merged colleges have collapsed, and this is attributable to a range of factors – in particular to a lack of stability, and constant reforms within the FE sector.
In the current, challenging climate, our three-way merger is most certainly in the public interest
For us and our neighbouring colleges – Bexley and Greenwich – merging is however very much the right thing to do.
As of August 1, 2016, we will form London South East Colleges. As was the case with Orpington, which merged with Bromley College in 2011, this strategic and operational alignment will absolutely lead to growth.
Mergers often fail not because they are the wrong match, but because of poor execution pre- and post- integration.
That’s why we have spent a lot of time not only looking at the tangible benefits for our learners, but also trying to understand the human, social and economic capital of all three colleges.
We are also looking closely at the cultural DNA of our three organisations, in order to formulate our new identity as London South East Colleges Group.
It is not a decision we have taken lightly. One of the colleges taking part in the merger has had a series of well-documented quality and finance problems, which have been ongoing for some years.
The other college has good-quality provision, but it is small, meaning that being strategically aligned with a bigger college will strengthen its offer.
In the current, challenging climate, our three-way merger is most certainly in the public interest. Collectively we will be able to deliver more choice for students and protect some of the more expensive areas of delivery that might otherwise have been cut.
This merger will also allow us to bring resource and capacity to growing new provision to meet demand, while bringing economies of scale that will enable future investment.
As well as offering students more choice, there will also be more opportunity for our 1,200 staff members in terms of continuing professional development and progression.
For the community in Greenwich, which may well have lost its FE provision altogether, our federation has already brought about some real benefits.
As well as starting to rebuild the college’s reputation, our increased engagement with stakeholders has led to new opportunities.
This includes the development of an Alcatel training centre, Royal Greenwich Smart City and the extension of the Bromley’s Hospitality, Food and Enterprise Career College into Greenwich.
The community is now at the heart of economic growth in the region and rebuilding FE for future generations. This could not have been achieved without the merger.
Ultimately, the internal and external environments of colleges need to align well in order for us to prevent the kind of perfect storm that has impacted on so many within the sector recently.
If colleges are well-managed, financially strong and manage to deliver a responsive and robust curriculum – while operating in a stable external environment where there is adequate funding, less change, and more reform and intervention – we will see success across the board.
We are going through a period of change, something that can easily become an emotional roller-coaster – a time of uncertainty and loss of identity.
However, with a culture of engagement and building on our combined strengths, underpinned by fantastic local stakeholder support, our new identity will emerge in South East London