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The best option is often to share services

According to FE Focus (March 12), many colleges may need to implement measures - such as mergers and shared services - that can see operational costs go down. ("Colleges urged to outsource services and save thousands" and "Turnaround head warns mergers can cause decline.")

Our research suggests that successfully managed mergers can not only solve major funding problems, but also deliver greater value to learners. Investing in shared services can reduce further education colleges' administrative budgets significantly.

We welcome the success of Michael Sheehan (pictured) in turning around Riverside College Halton and we agree that embarking on significant change, such as a merger, can lead to colleges losing sight of their primary purpose: effective teaching and learning.

FE must balance the need to maintain high quality teaching and learning with the financial pressures that we face. Practically, this means: communicating a clear vision; keeping staff involved but focused on consistent delivery to students throughout the change; and understanding that the full benefits do not materialise overnight.

The sector has, quite rightly, been wary of the "bigger is better" approach to education management and we, therefore, recognise that there is no magic "one-size-fits-all" solution. Over the past few years, however, we have learnt much and there is a lot of useful experience to share.

As funding conditions worsen, many in the sector may have little choice but to combine resources and work collaboratively to survive the coming decade of funding shortages. When well managed, both mergers and shared services may well be the best option.

John Stone, Chief executive, Learning and Skills Network.

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