A college with deteriorating finances has announced plans to close one of its campuses to find savings, in a move that has been met with “incredible concern” from a local MP.
The Sheffield College is proposing to shut the doors to its Peaks campus from September 2023 – an action that impacts 83 staff.
There are currently 300 students studying at the campus, which offers games design, health and social care, high needs, public services and science courses, apprenticeships and the Prince’s Trust programme.
But college chiefs say this is a far cry from its full capacity, with student numbers dropping by more than half from 776 in 2014-15.
Most courses delivered at Peaks would be moved to the college’s city centre site, which in seven miles away and takes 30 minutes to get to on public transport.
Principal Angela Foulkes said the “underutilised” Peaks campus is costly to maintain and run, a situation which is “compounded by a tough financial climate for the further education sector nationally including a reduction in funding in real terms and surging energy costs”.
But Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts has voiced discontent over the sudden decision after being contacted by “worried” constituents.
He said: “I am incredibly concerned about the decision to close the Peaks campus. One of the great assets of Sheffield College is having sites across the city, and to lose this one seems like a step in the wrong direction. I want to urge Sheffield College to hit the brakes on this decision and get everyone round the table to consider all the available options.
“The Peaks campus is the only provider of further education in my constituency and this decision will have a huge impact on the families who have children pursuing education post-GCSE.”
Betts added that it is “difficult to agree” with the Sheffield College’s assessment of the campus when it was its own leaders’ decision to close the Peaks campus’ sixth form several years ago which has “directly contributed to a fall in numbers”.
Foulkes said she understands the closure of Peaks “will be unsettling news” for staff and students, adding that “we will do everything we can to support them” including minimising redundancies by giving employees the option to relocate to the college’s other campus sites.
Current and prospective students will be supported with travel costs and journey planning, including bespoke transport arrangements where required, a spokesperson said.
The Sheffield College, which is Ofsted graded ‘good’, teaches around 14,000 young people and adults a year across four main campuses.
Hundreds of University and College Union members at the college went on strike earlier this year following an “insulting” pay offer of 2.5 per cent amid the cost-of-living crisis.
The college defended the pay offer at the time by pointing to a precarious financial position highlighted in its 2021/22 accounts.
The accounts show the college has moved from an operating surplus of £224,000 to an operating deficit of £3.7 million.
According to the financial statements, performance was “significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in fewer adult students engaging in learning and fewer apprentices which has impacted on income received”.
“Compared to the previous year there have also been significantly lower levels of capital grant income received in the year,” the accounts added. “More time on campus has meant that costs of delivery have increased from the previous year due to higher energy costs. This is an area of concern for the group as a whole as price increases for energy are prevalent with the college expecting some increases from April 2023 once the current contractual arrangement expires.”
A consultation on the Peaks campus closure opened yesterday and runs until June 1, 2023.