Minister okays college merger

The troubled merger of two colleges in the Midlands has been given the nod of approval by Skills Minister Matthew Hancock, who had told them to take the plans back to the drawing board.

Proposals by Stourbridge and Birmingham Metropolitan to form “one of the largest and most significant further education providers in the country” were approved by governors last week.

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 had more than 26,000 learners two years ago.

But the proposals had been 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 would request that the corporation review its processes and rectify any shortfall.”

However, a BIS spokesperson said there had been a constructive response to the letter and that the merger now had the minister’s blessing.

“Stourbridge Corporation has responded constructively to our concerns by demonstrating why it considers the merger to be the best option for learners, local employers and the community,” said the spokesperson.

“The corporation has now gone through the proper process and undertaken a college structure and prospects appraisal as set out in New Challenges, New Chances.

“We will continue to work with colleges in meeting expectations on the necessary steps when considering major changes like this to their delivery model.”

A spokesperson for the colleges said: “Both corporations have worked closely with BIS outlining the rationale for the merger and the many benefits it will bring to local learners, employers and the wider community.

“All the requirements have been met and we are now looking forward to delivering education and training to serve the needs of our communities.”

The merger plan was put out to a six-week formal consultation that ended on February 27.

It has been backed by the Birmingham Local Enterprise Partnership and, following the governors’ green light, is now set to be complete by June.

David Nolan, chair of Stourbridge College Corporation, said that the college’s governors unanimously supported the merger after considering the benefits it would create for learners, including greater choice of courses, improved facilities and enhanced connections to employers and the jobs market.

Vij Randeniya, chair of Birmingham Met, said that it was “delighted” to be merging with Stourbridge College which had a 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.”