City and Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College aim to become “the main force for FE in central London” through greater collaboration and a possible merger, it was announced today.
The colleges confirmed, through a joint statement released this morning, that their governing bodies had agreed “to explore the potential” for developing closer links.
It added that no decision had been made over the “specific form” this will take, but a group of governors from each college will now work with the two principals to “steer the initial phase”.
“They will develop options and consult widely to agree a ‘best fit’ model which would be adopted in the summer of 2016. It could involve anything from closer working relationships, to federation or merger,” it said.
Both colleges intend, the statement added, to retain their existing names and brands “for the foreseeable future, and possibly in perpetuity”.
They will also both continue to recruit students across 14-19, basic skills, apprenticeships, professional and technical and higher education programmes, as well as serving their local, regional and business communities, the statement added.
Andy Wilson (pictured right), principal of Westminster Kingsway College, which received a grade two Ofsted rating when it was last inspected in 2011, told FE Week: “The ambition is to be seen as the main force for FE in central London. It’s too early to go into much detail about how management or governing structures will work.
“However, we firmly believe that we can grow the number of students as a result of the collaboration, which would hopefully lead to the creation of more jobs rather than cutbacks.
“We are both successful colleges in stable financial positions, but believe that we will be even more successful together.”
Mr Wilson added that staff, students, governors, other London colleges, and local authorities would be consulted over the plans.
Sir Frank McLoughlin (pictured left), principal of City and Islington College, which received a grade one Ofsted rating when it was last inspected in 2008, told FE Week: “This is nothing to do with survival or cost cutting, it’s about ambition.
“Both colleges are looking at a number of options, but if it were to go to a merger, then that would only make us stronger.
“Our reach will now, whatever form the collaboration takes, cut right across a huge swathe of central London, which is very exciting. It will give us a stronger base to work with more employers and stakeholders and improve our provision.
“We would, of course, survive and I’m sure thrive if we carried on independently, but I think that we can be even better together.”
Ruth Duston (pictured below right), chair of governors at Westminster Kingsway College, which was allocated £17.1m by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) for 2014/15 as of April and posted a £1.1m operating surplus for 2013/14, said: “The FE sector will be the focus for many changes over the next years.
“This potential alliance will mean two successful colleges are at the forefront in responding to the opportunities these changes will provide.”
Alastair Da Costa (pictured below left), chair of governors at City and Islington College, which was allocated £18.6m by the SFA for 2014/15 as of April and posted a £1.8m operating surplus for 2013/14, said: “Collaboration between our two colleges is a bold, strategic and sensible initiative to be considering.
“It has real potential to increase our impact and leverage further benefits for the communities we serve.”
The announcement was welcomed by councillor Danny Chalkley, cabinet member for children and young people at Westminster City Council.
He said: “We fully support this decision by City and Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College to move towards closer collaboration.
“We look forward to seeing their final model of working together which we expect will have a positive and long-lasting impact on the local community.”
Islington Council and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills declined to comment. The SFA was unable to comment before publication.