Flagship national college plans to ‘dissolve’ despite DfE bailouts

One of the five government flagship national colleges plans to “dissolve” and hand over its courses to a college and private training provider after failing to recruit enough students, FE Week can reveal.

National College Creative Industries was set up in 2016 with £5.5 million of government funding, and despite bailouts to stay afloat is now consulting on moving to a licensing model in which it quits as a provider.

Under the plans Access Creative College will take over running the apprenticeships, while South Essex College will take over classroom provision and the running of The Backstage Centre, the commercial production and rehearsal venue where NCCI is based.

A spokesperson for the NCCI said “the existing FE Corporation will dissolve to form a new Company Limited by Guarantee and deliver provision through its partners, this is similar to the successful model demonstrated by the National College for Nuclear.

“The National College vision will continue to be promoted and strengthened through the new legal structure.”

A new company, NCCI Ltd, will “steer the development of new curriculum at higher levels to address sector needs, while also ensuring the quality of its licenced provision”, added the spokesperson, much like the Baker Dearing Trust manages licences for university technical colleges.

Sue Dare, NCCI’s interim principal, said: “We are aiming for a seamless transition to our new way of working and are confident that these new arrangements will enable us to continue to improve our delivery and support for employers, apprentices and learners, while also enabling us to extend our capacity and reach for creative industries employers across the country.”

Its plans will need sign-off from the Department for Education of they are to go ahead on January 31.

Angela O’Donoghue, the principal of South Essex College, said the partnership would “create further opportunities to engage with providers from across the sector,” and would make The Backstage Centre “a magnet for industry and industry training in the southeast”.

NCCI started to look for partner organisations after it made it through 2017-18 as a “going concern” after a £600,000 bailout from the Department for Education, as FE Week reported in June.

It also received a £1.25 million working capital loan, £745,000 of which was paid out during 2017-18, with the remaining £505,000 drawn down in 2018-19.

The DfE also reprofiled loans and deferred the repayment start date from March 2019 to March 2023.

NCCI opened in 2016 as one of five centres the government promised would train an estimated 21,000 students by 2020 in “industries central to the productivity agenda such as digital and high-speed rail”.

Yet NCCI started with just 16 learners and has struggled to meet its target of 1,000 learners a year since then – recruiting only 167 between May 2018 and May this year.

The DfE revealed in a written answer in May that NCCI was looking for potential partners as part of a structure and prospects appraisal.

The National College for High Speed Rail has also had to move from its original model and is looking to change its name to the National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure to broaden its offering.

This is after it needed a £4.55 million DfE bailout to avoid being unable to sign off its 2017-18 accounts.

The National Colleges for Digital Skills and Nuclear are both open, but the National College for Onshore Oil and Gas has not started yet.

The DfE, which has sunk £80 million into the colleges, late last year launched an evaluation of the scheme.