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College trinity inspires imitators

If plans for a three-way college merger go ahead, they would create one of the biggest institutions in Wales. Huw Richards reports

Public consultation on plans for a three-way merger to create one of the largest colleges in Wales reached a fresh stage this week, triggering a new wave of expected amalgamations in England and Wales.

If the link-up between Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil and Ystrad Mynach colleges goes ahead, it would create a new institution with the equivalent of more than 4,000 full-time students and an annual budget of around pound;18.5million, making it one of the largest Welsh colleges.

Public consultation concludes today, and all three governing bodies will have met by the end of the month. If they approve, the plans will be forwarded to Education and Learning Wales and then the National Assembly. It is hoped that the signature of Rhodri Morgan, First Secretary of the Assembly, could be obtained by the end of the year. The three existing colleges are within 11 miles of each other in the valleys north of Cardiff. Two of them, Aberdare and Merthyr, are well below the 2,000 FTE-student level advocated by the former Further Education Funding Council for Wales as the minimum for a viable college.

Christine Roberts,principal of Aberdare, the smallest college in South Wales, said : "While we run a tight ship and have come well out of inspections, we are too small to offer our local population the variety to which they are entitled. The best way to address this is to link up with a larger organisation."

Bryn Davies, principal of Ystrad Mynach, which has grown rapidly in recent years and is larger than its two prospective partners combined, said the three colleges already had a history of collaboration and the merger was a logical progression. He said each college had strong areas that could be built into centres of excellence.

He added: "Aberdare is particularly good in hospitality and catering, Merthyr in motor vehicles and Ystrad Mynach in aerospace." Personnel and finance management would be divided between the three sites. Video-conferencing suites which are due to be installed over the summer will help the managers to keep tabs on different departments. Mr Davies said no compulsory redundancies were planned. It is hoped that redeployed staff will strengthen services such as student support.

No name has yet been chosen. Mr Davies said one possible option was to retain all three names as The College at Aberdare, and so on.

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