A debt-laden college will close two campuses, including a former sixth form college (SFC), and stop providing A-levels.
Central Sussex College announced on April 15 it would be closing its Haywards Heath campus, formerly Haywards Heath SFC, in 2017 due to “too high” debt and falling student numbers.
It will also move a “small number” of adult education courses to its Crawley base from its East Grinstead campus, which it will be closing later this year.
The college is £25m in the red, according to a statement on the college’s website, of which £21.4m is a mortgage taken out to cover the campus redevelopment between 2008 and 2011.
College principal Sarah Wright said: “The brutal truth is that our debts are too high and in order to protect the majority of students and staff, and the wider community, we have to substantially reduce our costs.”
Central Sussex College was formed in August 2005 through the merger of Crawley College and Haywards Heath SFC.
Ms Wright, who took over at the college in 2013, told FE Week that the college received £6.8m in government funding to support the early phases of the Haywards Heath campus redevelopment.
When funding from this programme was withdrawn, the college took out £22.5m in mortgages between 2008 and 2012 to cover the remaining cost, Ms Wright said.
She told FE Week that the college had breached its loan covenants in 2013/14 and was forecast to do so again in 2015/16, but this had not led to an increase in the interest rate it was paying.
A statement on the college’s website said the number of A-level students at the college had fallen by 60 per cent over the past three years, which was due to an “over-supply” of A-level provision in the area.
There were about 1,000 current students at the Haywards Heath campus, and between 200 and 300 at the East Grinstead campus, it said.
The closure means that the college will end its A-level provision in 2017.
Students currently enrolled will complete their courses, while those who were due to start in September will be supported to find alternative places, the college said.
Sir Nicholas Soames, MP for Mid Sussex, which includes the college, said he was “appalled and deeply saddened” by the closure.
“I have today written to the Secretary of State for Education to ask her to examine what has happened and to see whether or not the Government can assist in dealing with this self-inflicted wound by an earlier and very reckless management,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We are in discussions with other nearby sixth form colleges to ensure students have a place elsewhere.
“Additionally as part of the area review programme we are supporting colleges to put plans in place that will enable them to secure a strong and sustainable future.”
The closure comes at the same time as more than 15 college mergers are expected in 2016.
The Haywards Heath campus will close in 2017