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Failed bid to merge may still bear fruit

Ex-partners from Glasgow try again as a twosome, and another pair seek relocation, reports Neil Munro

The fraught efforts to merge Glasgow colleges are not yet dead in the water as two announced plans to combine and another two are understood to be considering relocating to a joint campus.

Glasgow College of Building and Printing (GCBP) and Glasgow College of Food Technology (GCFT) have risen phoenix-like from the ashes of their failed merger with Glasgow's Central College of Commerce to reveal they would attempt a union together.

There is considerable pressure on Glasgow's colleges to combine, with the FE funding council said to be keen on creating a single institution out of the five in the city centre. The council has promised it will give priority to investment in Glasgow's rundown college infrastructure but only if there is an estates strategy it can support.

Jim Wallace, the Lifelong Learning Minister, implicitly criticised the collapse of the previous merger talks when he addressed the Association of Scottish Colleges' conference in June. The "quite sudden ending of discussions" had come as "something of a surprise," he said.

The funding council's vision for the future of FE in Glasgow is likely to come a step closer if talks between Stow College and Glasgow College of Nautical Studies bear fruit. Their relocation to a new shared campus is a serious possibility, The TES Scotland understands.

This would leave the College of Commerce without a partner. It continues to maintain that it had no choice but to pull out of the previous talks because the sums favouring a merger of the "Cathedral Street three" did not stack up.

But Donald Leitch, principal of the GCFT, said a merger of the remaining two would bring real benefits to students "and ultimately to Scotland's commercial environment".

Tom Wilson, principal at the GCBP, said merger was a natural outcome from the long record the two colleges have of working together.

If the plans are approved by the Scottish Executive, they will be the first merger in the FE sector (nine have been approved in higher education since 1992).

The two colleges have been here before but their previous marriage attempt was declared void by the former Scottish Office in 1997 on the grounds that they had failed to consider the wider impact a merger would have on other FE colleges in Glasgow.

A joint college of food technology, building and printing would have a combined turnover of pound;21 million, 15,000 students and just under 500 staff. The latest annual accounts for 2001-02 show the GCBP running a small surplus of pound;53,000, while the GCFT was operating a pound;130,000 deficit.

The news that Stow is talking to Glasgow College of Nautical Studies follows its own abortive experience of discussions with North Glasgow College. The latter decided earlier this year "not to take the question of merger any further at this time".

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