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Council backs Ealing merger

WEST London Learning and Skills Council overwhelmingly backed a local rescue package for Ealing Tertiary College this week through a merger with Hammersmith and West London College. But they left the door open to a partnership with Thames Valley University and the London borough of Ealing.

West London LSC chief executive Peter Pledger said the council, which had been faced with two rival bids, had almost unanimously backed the merger with Hammersmith and West London College, which had been agreed by both governing bodies. But they had added three caveats for the merger which took account of local needs, including enhanced sixth-form provision in multi-racial Southall, better relations with the local schools, adult and university provision and a tighter grip on financial management in the new college. "This is our first determination based on the proposals before us and we will look at it again after a consultation exercise. Our recommendation will then be sent to the Secretary of State for a final decision."

The final decision could prove a landmark in the future provision of further education under the new earning and Skills Act. It will also test the relationships between the Department for Education and Employment and the 47 local councils, who are flexing their muscles, and will test the extent of their powers. It could spell the end of an integrated tertiary education system in favour of separate specialised centres of vocational and academic excellence.

Hammersmith and West London College principal John Stone said the merged college would create a new centre of excellence for post-16 learners. "It will be one of the largest FE colleges in London."

However, the interim solution will be regarded as a setback by some local Labour councillors and ministers who wanted to see the new college become part of a new open access further and higher education system linked with Thames Valley University and offering two-year foundation degrees. This is the vision of TVU vice-chancellor Ken Barker.

Mr Pledger said the Ealing borough bid to take over the tertiary college with the university, given the green light by HE Minister Tessa Blackstone in a letter dated April 30, had not been completely rejected.

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