Another three-way merger is on the cards in an effort to secure the long-term future of a Southampton college surviving on government bailouts.
The Department for Education has revealed plans that would see City College Southampton, Eastleigh College and Fareham College in Hampshire create a “single group structure”.
The proposal forms the outcome of the DfE’s long-awaited City-wide Solution (CWS) project Southampton, which got underway in late 2020.
All three colleges said they would now consider the proposal. The DfE has refused to release the project’s report or share details about when the merger could go ahead if agreed by all parties.
Multiple previous merger attempts involving City College Southampton – one of which included Eastleigh College – have been rejected.
This is the second three-way merger proposal on the table for City College Southampton – the previous plan was to join with both Itchen Sixth Form College and Richard Taunton Sixth Form but this was abandoned in 2020.
The FE Commissioner’s team visited Southampton in December 2021 and reported that City College is surviving on emergency money, which has reached £8 million, from the Education and Skills Funding Agency. The funding is due to run out by February 2023.
It is hoped that a three-way merger between City College, Eastleigh College and Fareham College will create a financially strong network of college campuses, which will “improve the quality and breadth of the offer to learners and enable FE to respond better to local and national priorities”, according to a government spokesperson.
All three colleges are relatively small with total annual income ranging from around £15 million to £20 million. City College Southampton recorded a deficit in 2021 of £1.4 million, while Eastleigh had a deficit of £1.8 million last year. Fareham College is yet to file accounts for 2021 but its financial statements for 2020 show a deficit of £500,000.
The DfE said it has worked closely with the FE institutions and key partners in the city and the surrounding area, consulting with the Chamber of Commerce, other local education organisations, both of the city’s universities and the city and county councils.
“The colleges in Southampton have a rich history of educating and supporting local people and these proposals are the next step in ensuring they are able to continue to do so, while responding to local needs and remaining financially sustainable,” a DfE spokesperson said.
“We want to thank the partner colleges for their tireless work on this issue so far, and look forward to working with them to deliver the best deal possible for students, colleges and the people of Southampton.”
City College Southampton will be led by deputy FE Commissioner Martin Sim from July, who will replace outgoing principal Sarah Stannard.
In a statement about the latest merger proposal, a City College spokesperson said: “We have been and continue to be committed to working collaboratively with the DfE, stakeholders and partners to achieve an organisation which will deliver high quality, sustainable further education in Southampton and surrounding areas for decades to come.”
Fareham College said the college will discuss the DfE proposals because it is “important to explore all options for strengthening the provision that is currently available and we look forward to working beside the DfE to determine the best way of achieving the desired outcomes for learners in Southampton and beyond”.
And Eastleigh College said: “We recognise the efforts of the past year by the Department for Education, Education and Skills Funding Agency, the FE Commissioner and others in their work to seek to resolve the challenges at City College.
“As we have demonstrated since 2018 we will continue to consider how we can support improvement and deliver an improved position for learners, employers, stakeholders and the city of Southampton. The board will consider the initial ‘City Wide Solution’ proposal in June and will feedback to relevant agencies at that time.”
The DfE said it will announce further developments in “due course”.