> Exclusive analysis finds potential for 15 mergers in 2016
> Union warns of time needed for meaningful consultation

Bury College is in talks over a potential merger with a nearby university, becoming one of up to 15 mergers involving 32 institutions across the country.

Bury is expected to launch a consultation into plans to merge with the University of Bolton in the next few days.

It comes as a spokesperson for Bolton College confirmed that it is also in discussions with the higher education body.

Both colleges are part of the Greater Manchester area review, in wave one of the area reviews, which launched last September.

Bury College’s principal, Charlie Deane said the college had “taken advantage of the area review process to further develop and strengthen” the college’s existing “excellent working relationship” with the university.

The proposed merger “provides a considered and innovative opportunity to offer a more comprehensive, flexible and responsive curriculum,” Mr Deane continued, “with the potential to improve access and increase choice for a broader range of learners at all levels”.

“More details will begin to take shape as our discussions, proposals and consultations with stakeholders evolve,” he said.

Bolton College is in early stage discussions with the university “regarding an educational solution that works for Bolton”, a spokesperson for the college said.

A spokesperson for the University of Bolton said it welcomed the current proposals by Bury College, and the commitment by Bolton College.

The Bury College proposal is the latest of 15 possible mergers, involving 28 FE colleges, three sixth form colleges and one university, all of which are proposed for August 1.

This compares to just nine mergers in the ten years from 2001 and 2010, under the previous funding agency, the Learning and Skills Council, according to figures published by the department for Business Innovation and Skills.

Consultations are currently open on mergers between South Worcestershire College and

Warwickshire College Group; City and Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College; Bexley College and Bromley College; Bournville College and South and City College.

Further mergers are planned for New College Nottingham and Central College Nottingham; Barrow Sixth Form College and Furness College; and South Leicestershire College and North Warwickshire and Hinckley College.

Decisions have not yet been published following consultation earlier this year on mergers between Shrewsbury College and New College Telford, and Lowestoft College, Great Yarmouth College and Lowestoft Sixth Form College.

Hackney Community College and Tower Hamlets College confirmed in March that they will be merging.

Carlisle College is in discussions about merging with Newcastle College Group (NCG), while Lewisham Southwark College has been in talks with a view to ‘closer working’ with NCG.

Last month Northbrook College and neighbouring City College Brighton and Hove announced their intention to merge later in the year.

On seeing the FE Week analysis (pictured), Sally Hunt, General Secretary of University and College Union said: ‘It is not a surprise that so many colleges are rushing to merge given the massive budget cuts they have endured in recent years.

But any proposed changes should be subject to thorough and meaningful consultation with unions, students and the wider community.”

“Colleges are central to improving the life chances of their local communities, and UCU will work hard both to protect our members’ jobs and defend local educational opportunities where mergers put them at risk.”

Given the scale of proposed mergers, a spokesperson for the Association of Colleges said: “Whether colleges are already in the area review process or waiting for their wave to start, they are increasingly aware of how they can prepare for potential recommendations, how they can shape their own futures, and how they can engage with potential partners.

“Throughout this period, colleges will remain focused on what students want and need in order to go on to further or higher level study or join the workforce.”

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  1. A very important article and does highlight the fact that most of these proposed mergers are coming on the back of colleges looking for a get out of jail card on the back of so called financial stability. or having one imposed on them, so be it, but as stated in the piece:
    ‘Unions warn of time needed for meaningful consultation’ someone please define ‘meaningful consultation’ particularly with the last statement in mind:
    “Throughout this period, colleges will remain focused on what students want and need in order to go on to further or higher level study or join the workforce.”

    Will learners actually have a say in this? That will be a first.

  2. J. Yeates

    I am horrified to learn of the possibility of such a high level of mergers. The inevitable result of these mergers will be:

    Further job losses
    Huge inconvenience to remaining staff – having to travel further to and from work each day
    Larger learning groups – reducing the level of support for FE learners
    Fewer learners being willing/able to access their ‘local’ college, to gain the requisite knowledge and skills to find work. The net effect of this may be an increase in unemployment in the area.

  3. Does that suggest that some colleges are feeling vulnerable and at risk while 6th forms and universities are more confident in / secure of their future . Is it like seeing the transfer window closing in on them and being under threat of being transferred and losing their own identity?

  4. Julian Gravatt

    The article says that there were only 9 college mergers between 2001 and 2010. At AoC, we count 56 for the 9 Learning and Skills Council years and another 14 college mergers in the coalition period. There were 488 colleges in 1993 when they were transferred away from local government control and there are about 330 now. The current merger wave and the conversion of some sixth form colleges to become academies will bring significant changes but there will still be lots of colleges

  5. All good valid points raised so far however no one has yet mentioned the potential knock on effect to Partner Organisations such as PTP’s and their learners,who rely on sub-contracting with FE Colleges with whom they have built a trusting relationship. Last year, as a result of the huge cuts in the FE budget, particularly the ASB stream, my PTP lost over 75% of our FE contracts as our Partner Colleges brought that provision “In House” to try and mitigate the funding cuts. These proposed mergers will probably make sub-contracting even more difficult