'FE sector likely to see further de-mergers'

Association of Colleges chief executive says he expects a 'more fluent college sector'

Julia Belgutay

colleges FE merger financial health commissioner

The college sector could see further de-mergers over the coming years, according to the chief executive of the Association of Colleges.

David Hughes told Tes that there had been “a lot of restructuring in the college sector over the last five years”, and it would be surprising if “all of those restructures were absolutely right and some did not need to be restructured again”.

Background: The college mergers on the horizon for 2019

More on this: FE commissioner: Merger may be on cards for two colleges

More news: Five colleges slapped with financial warnings

'Evolve and develop'

The college sector has seen dozens of mergers in recent years, many instigated by the government’s area-based review process. Last month, Tes reported there were 12 mergers proposed for this year alone.  

Mr Hughes explained that as the sector evolved and developed, “mergers and de-mergers will always be part of the fabric of the sector”. “This is not to say there will be lots, but there will be some.”

He added many mergers had had to happen rapidly for financial viability reasons and in some cases, demergers could be a useful tool to help tailor provision to the local community better or support specialisation. “I am seeing a much more fluent sector that is thinking about a clearer focus, specialisation and what the sector really needs to do to meet its communities’ needs,” he said.

'Undertaking a review'

Mr Hughes’ comments came after Birmingham Metropolitan College confirmed yesterday that it was considering de-merger from Stourbridge College. Cliff Hall, principal and chief executive, said the college group was “undertaking a review of our provision in the Black Country and Kidderminster”.

“The review is being led by the FE commissioner’s team. The plan is to make any recommendations by April. We are consulting all of our local stakeholders, staff and students. Any changes will only be made with the agreement of the BMet board of governors. Our overriding priority is continuity of provision for our students.”

Mr Hall added that in the short time that I have been BMet principal, he had come to have the highest regard for the quality of provision at Stourbridge College.

Financial difficulty

BMet has been subject to a financial notice of concern from the Education and Skills Funding Agency since 2015 and has received exceptional financial support to try and improve its financial health. Andrew Cleaves, principal and chief executive, resigned last autumn. 

The move being considered by BMet is not the first example of de-merger in the sector. Last September, Lewisham and Southwark College, part of NCG, announced it would split into separate colleges to allow each to serve their individual communities better.


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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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