Two FE colleges are in talks about merging their provision with a university in a landmark move for the sector.
Bolton College and Bury College, both in Greater Manchester, have confirmed that talks are taking place with the University of Bolton. An email sent by Bury College, and seen by the Bury Times, states: "The Corporation of Bury College, including both staff and governors, have agreed unanimously to commence formal consultation, including due diligence, on the preferred option which is merger with the University of Bolton". Bolton College also confirmed to TES that it was in discussions with the university. The colleges are both part of the Greater Manchester area review.
Charlie Deane, principal of Bury College, said: “Bury College has had an excellent working relationship with the University of Bolton for many years, particularly through developing and expanding our wide range of higher education courses. We have taken advantage of the area review process to further develop and strengthen this relationship. More details will begin to take shape as our discussions, proposals and consultations with stakeholders evolve. Our overriding goal remains to ensure positive benefits, outcomes and success for our students and the communities we serve.”
'An educational solution'
A spokesman for Bolton College said: “We are in discussions with the University of Bolton regarding an educational solution that works for Bolton, building on the strengths of the Education Zone. Discussions are at a very early stage and so we are not able to elaborate further at this stage.”
Bolton Education Zone is a partnership between the University of Bolton, Bolton College and Bolton Sixth-Form College.
If the proposals go ahead, it is believed this would be the first merger between FE and HE providers in recent years. Several university-college mergers took place around the turn of the century, but four of them – involving colleges in Harrogate, Lincoln, Penrith and Reading – have since been demerged and reverted back to FE college status.
Partnerships between colleges and universities in Wales have proved to be more successful, with the University of South Wales taking over Merthyr Tydfil College, while the University of Wales Trinity Saint David has taken over two colleges, Coleg Sir Gar and Coleg Ceredigion, as subsidiary companies limited by guarantee.