Shortlisted college eyes-up K College degrees

One of the eight organisations shortlisted to take over the troubled K College has told FE Week it is only interested in taking on higher education provision.

Canterbury College is one of eight colleges and training providers that has been invited to bid for provision delivered by the Kent college.

But it has revealed it is only looking to take on K College’s higher education programmes.

“Canterbury College has a newly-opened, purpose built higher education centre and is keen to ensure there are suitable opportunities for learners in Kent to progress to higher education,” a spokesperson told FE Week.

“Hence the college is making a bid for the higher education provision currently delivered by K College.”

Nine organisations had been asked to develop their bids to take over provision at K College. They had been whittled down from 30 organisations, including colleges and private firms, who sent the Skills Funding Agency a total of 87 expressions of interest (EIs).

One of the organisations has since pulled out, but, other than Canterbury College, those still in competition are East Kent College, Mid Kent College, Hadlow College, Portsmouth’s Highbury College, Ixion Group Contracts Ltd, SEETEC Business Technology Centre Ltd and NCG (formerly Newcastle College Group).

They all declined to comment on their possible tenders, although an NCG spokesperson insisted the 250-mile distance between its HQ and K College would not be a problem as it was already a national training provider.

K College was formed following a merger between West Kent College and South Kent College in 2010, but ran up at least £15m in debt to the agency, which has issued it with a notice of concern.

Phil Frier, who became interim principal of the college in January following the resignation of former principal Mr Fearon, has conceded the merger failed.

The agency has declined to say whether K College debts would be transferred to the winning bidder.

The Canterbury College spokesperson said: “We are very mindful of the need to safeguard our own finances and other resources, and do not wish to jeopardise our own position and that of our students and staff.

“The college will therefore not be bidding for any of K College’s campuses, or for other FE funding contracts that come with various high levels of bank loans and other debt.”

Seven parts of the college’s provision are on offer, including 16 to 19 provision in Dover, Folkestone or Ashford, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells grouped together and 19+ provision in these three areas.

Higher Education Funding Council for England directly-funded provision at Ashford and Tonbridge is also up for grabs.

The first, EI, stage of the tendering process was initially supposed to have been completed in August.

But it was delayed by the agency “in order to allow organisations to better prepare their tenders” as many organisations would be closed over the summer, according to an email sent to interested bodies.

That resulted in the second stage of the process, where invitations to tender (ITT) were due to be sent out by the agency between July and September, being pushed back.

However, the delay should not prevent contracts from being awarded on time, an agency spokesperson told FE Week in July. They said: “Contracts will continue to be awarded in line with the indicative timetable we have set out.”

The short-listed organisations who have made through to the ITT stage are due give presentations and attend interviews on their bids this month with contracts being awarded the following two months.