Could private training provider cash-in after college sell-off?

A national training provider could step-in to become the only education provider in Stourbridge, after the area’s FE college is sold-off.

Skills Training UK, which currently trains more than 2,000 learners across London, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Dudley and Brighton, said it would launch the new the centre for 16-18-year-olds “subject to demand”.

Cash-strapped Birmingham Metropolitan College announced last month that it was to sell off Stourbridge College – one of the group’s five main divisions – and transfer its 900 learners to two other nearby colleges in September, following a review from the FE Commissioner.

Dudley College of Technology will take on its apprenticeship provision, art and design, construction, equine, foundation learning, digital and ICT and motor vehicle; and Halesowen College will take over responsibility for business, early years, health and social care, public services, sport and science.

A “proposed support for Stourbridge students” page on the Skills Training UK website says “we are aware of the proposed transfer of Stourbridge College and the affect this would have on the local community … complete the short form on this page to let us know if you support our proposal to open a new Stourbridge Training Centre”.

It could offer level 1 and level 2 BTEC courses, which may be suitable for school students who had hoped to progress to Stourbridge College in September and do not want to travel to Dudley or Halesowen. Subjects include business enterprise, warehousing and storage, care, customer service and business administration.

The training provider told FE Week it “always assesses the level of local demand before opening any new centre”, and is asking school leavers, parents/carers, teachers and other community members to register their interest for a Stourbridge centre online.

Martin Dunford OBE, chief executive at Skills Training UK, who is also chair of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “Skills Training UK has been successful in the West Midlands with established training centres in Dudley and Walsall and two Academies for Business, Industry and Technology in Birmingham and Wolverhampton.

“Because of increasing demand, we are looking into growing further capacity in the whole West Midlands region and Stourbridge is one possibility.”

And operations manager Joanne Heywood added: “Our tutors help learners to develop their skills and confidence so they can progress to their next stage – further education, an apprenticeship, or employment.

“With small group sizes and bespoke mentoring support available, we can offer young people the support they need to succeed. But we need to establish local demand first.”

BMet had £5 million spent on the Stourbridge campus in 2015, which encompasses “centres of excellence” for engineering, health and social care and early years.

Stourbridge had a long-term debt of £7.6 million when it merged with BMet. The college group said it is “currently working on a recovery plan to repay the outstanding balance and will work closely with the ESFA on this”.

The University and College Union (UCU) is organising a protest this Saturday against the closure.

The union said the move would affect hundreds of staff and students, and that there had been “no meaningful consultation about the move with the local community, staff or students”.

It added that “many students have raised concerns about the cost and additional time” it will take for students to travel to Dudley and Halesowen.

The decision to sell off Stourbridge College was a “shock” to the town’s local MP Margot James, who is also the digital minister, and previously described its loss as “tragic” in an interview with FE Week.