Bailout-backed university takeover of college finally given official approval

A cash-strapped London college’s merger with a nearby university has finally been given the official stamp of approval.

Lambeth College will join forces with London South Bank University by January 2019, the university has announced.

The on-off partnership, first announced more than 18 months ago, will be backed by almost £30 million in government bailout funding.

Monica Box, the college’s chief executive and Fiona Morey, its principal-designate, said the move was “great news for our students and staff as it will help us build upon our position as the ‘careers college’ of choice for the local community”.

“LSBU’s mission is to transform lives, businesses and communities through the power of education,” said Professor David Phoenix, LSBU’s vice chancellor.

“By partnering with Lambeth College we will be able to create clear routes from college, to university and into successful careers.”

The merger has been signed off by skills minister Anne Milton, but is still subject to parliamentary approval and contract agreement, LSBU said today.

The partnership between the two was first announced in December 2016, and had originally been set to go through by July 2017.

But in June last year FE Week reported that the college was preparing to handover wide-ranging control of how it was run to the university, ahead of a formal merger – plans that subsequently did not go ahead.

And in January this year it emerged that the merger plans had hit the buffers, and that the college was in the market for a new partner.

However, following an FE commissioner-led structure and prospects appraisal, Lambeth reverted to the original plan and announced in March that it would merge with LSBU after all.

According to the college’s accounts, published in December 2017, the original plans had been delayed “with submissions of further financial and strategic plans to the Education and Skills Funding Agency and the minister of state”.

The same document also revealed that the college was depending on government bailouts to keep it afloat.

It has been in severe financial difficulties since 2016 when a “significant deterioration” in its cashflow prompted an intervention by the former FE commissioner, Sir David Collins.

His report, based on a visit that September, found problems with the college’s finances that were so severe it was “no longer sustainable” unless it merged.

According to the college’s accounts it had received £8 million in exceptional financial support, and was expecting to receive funding from the “restructuring facility of around £25 million in early 2018”.

The sum the college is requesting from the fund has now increased to £29 million, according to minutes from the college’s governing board meeting on May 24.

The link-up between Lambeth and LSBU will be the second college-university merger to go through since 2012.

Bolton College and the University of Bolton merged on August 1 using an innovative model, proposed by the DfE, through which the college has retained its own principal and governing board, giving it greater protection than it would through a traditional merger model.