Colleges’ troubled merger plan goes ahead

Two Midland colleges are set to merge less than two months after Skills Minister Matthew Hancock told them to go back to the drawing board with the plans.

Proposals by Stourbridge and Birmingham Metropolitan to form “one of the largest and most significant further education providers in the country” have been okayed by governors.

They are now set to become one institution with the 12,500-student Stourbridge College dissolving and its property, rights and liabilities transferring to Birmingham Met, which, two years ago, had more than 26,000 learners.

David Nolan, chair of Stourbridge College Corporation, said: “The board of governors at Stourbridge College has unanimously voted in favour of merger after considering the wide range of benefits this would create for our learners, including greater choice of courses, improved facilities and enhanced connections to employers and the jobs market.”

The merger idea was put out to a six-week formal consultation which ended on Wednesday, February 27.

But the proposals were later investigated by Mr Hancock’s officials at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to “establish if appropriate processes have been followed”.

He wrote to David Beasley, clerk at Stourbridge College, saying: “I am not convinced by the rationale set out in your consultation document that this would represent the best outcomes for learners in your local area.

“Nor does your consultation document provide assurance to me that the corporation has undertaken the open and transparent processes that we would expect in terms of analysing needs, engaging with stakeholders and, critically, securing the most effective partnerships and delivery option(s) for the future.”

He added: “I would request that the corporation review its processes and rectify any shortfall, including seeking potential partners through open and inclusive processes.”

However, the merger — backed by the Birmingham Local Enterprise Partnership — is set to be complete as of June.

Vij Randeniya, chair of Birmingham Met, said: “We are delighted to be merging with Stourbridge College who have a long established reputation for success and innovation.

“Working together will help both colleges respond to government’s priorities, particularly in light of the current economic climate and the need to develop the skills of our regional workforce.

“Our partnership will offer us the exciting prospect of developing our curriculum across our network of campuses, as well as delivering a host of new opportunities for both organisations to build on the quality and innovation they are already known for.

“We are keen to support the work of the Black Country and Greater Birmingham Local Enterprise Partnerships to deliver economic growth and local community regeneration.”