Friday, August 03, 2007

College mergers: an interesting experiment

August 1st always see a few mergers of further education colleges. This year there seem to be a few more than usual. Maybe the legacy of the Learning & Skills Council, after it has been stripped of its funding roles, will have been more college mergers.

One particularly interesting merger this week was the take over of the struggling Skelmersdale & Ormskirk College by Newcastle College. This is certainly a controversial merger.

While both Skelmersdale and Newcastle are both rather northern colleges, they are 160 miles apart. I’ve worked at colleges where campuses as far apart as nine miles seemed such a long way. During college merger due diligence studies, I’ve raised issues where potential merger partners were an hour apart by road.

Making campuses separated by 160 miles can work will be something of a leadership challenge. (And the hostility of the lecturers’ union UCU is another one.) It will perhaps be complicated by the new localism in further education with the role for local authorities in funding 16-19 learners that is emerging from the changes in what was the Department for Education and Skills.

While the emergence of regional colleges has become increasingly likely, Newcastle College aspires to be more than this – according to the Guardian it has a strategy for becoming a “multi-region college”. This raises some of the issues of big as beautiful discussed on these pages in relation to mega housing associations straddling large parts of England.

It's definitely an interesting experiment.


Hilary Burrage said...

I'd guess that in many respects the curriculum requirements of Skelmersdale and Newcastle are similar - both northern towns / cities with high levels of immediate socio-economic challenge and a seaboard / rural hinterland.

There no doubt needs to be tweaking of which are the appropriate courses to offer local peole, but there is a potential in both cases for the other to offer support in the professional and academic spheres. But that would also apply to almost any college in at miminum the northern part of England, if not further afield.

... which leaves the question, why stop there? Already, NHS Trusts such as the NW Ambulance Service span vast areas of the country....

Bob Deed said...

I'm not sure whether the ambulance service offers parallels. While ambulance personnel are increasingly skilled and "front line", the ambulance service is to some extent a support service to hospitals.

I can see how support services could span a large area as with NHS or local authority shared services for back-office functions.

But I think colleges are more like hospitals with a more collegiate and professional-led culture and structure. I believe that colleges, hospitals and housing associations can deliver more value by having a local (or regional) identity and accountability.