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Border conflict breaks out in Wales

A cross-border war has broken out between FE colleges in Hereford and neighbouring Powys with allegations that the English are enticing Welsh students over the border.

Four colleges - Herefordshire College of Technology, Herefordshire College of Art and Design, Herefordshire Agricultural College and Hereford Sixth Form College - have united in the marketing drive. Their first target was to expand throughout the Hereford and Worcester area.

But now the English colleges have cast covetous eyes on students living in Powys. Leaflets and posters have been distributed to schools, libraries and post offices, and the clincher looks set to be a free bus network.

Coleg Powys, which operates on three sites in Newtown, Llandrindod Wells and Brecon, is concerned at the long-term impact of the Hereford recruitment drive.

John Stephenson, principal, said: "It doesn't surprise me that Hereford colleges are targeting potential students from some of the main population centres in Powys. This is an inevitable consequence of the competitive environment that has been created in education.

"However, unlike the local institutions, Hereford colleges have no real interest in the communities of Powys and are interested only in the additional funding that they will receive on behalf of the students."

He added there was no need for anyone from Powys to seek qualifications outside the area. The high schools have an excellent record at A-level, and Coleg Powys has an exemplary record in achieving vocational qualifications at all levels.

A comprehensive transport system provided access to all Coleg Powys campuses not only from the main centres in the county but also from rural areas. He said the college also provides standards of personal care and attention to students that were often missing in larger, more impersonal colleges.

Mr Stephenson said: "While it may seem expedient in the short term for some students to study over the border, in the long term the effect will be to remove resources from local schools as well as the college and so to damage their ability to offer the full range of efficient, quality education and training services to those not able to travel outside the area."

But John Barton, spokesman for the Herefordshire Partnership and director of marketing at the College of Technology was unrepentant, arguing that the colleges were merely responding to a demand from potential students in Powys that had been voiced over a number of years.

"In the past the travelling costs were prohibitive but we have now overcome that. This is a very isolated rural area, and Coleg Powys is on three sites. It means for many people their choice of courses is very limited. We know there is a demand for our courses," he said.

So far the signs were good and demands were high for next September. Mr Barton said: "We know this has created some ill-feeling with Coleg Powys, but to be fair there has been cross-border movement for some years."

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