'Flawed' merger between college and university could put FE provision at risk, unions warn

Proposals to merge Bury College with the University of Bolton (pictured) would not benefit staff or students, Unison and UCU claim

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Two unions have hit out at plans for a historic merger between a university and college.

In response to a consultation on proposals to merge Bury College with the University of Bolton, members of the University and College Union (UCU) and Unison criticised the “flawed” process and said the merger would not benefit staff or students, and could pose a serious threat to the future of further education provision in Bury. 

The unions say that staff, students and the public should have been consulted on a number of options available to the college, not just the merger plans, and that the college is “well-placed” to remain an independent institution.

In April, TES reported that Bolton College was also in talks with the university about a potential merger.

In the consultation document, Bury College’s chair of governors, Peter Nicol, writes that the merger would be between “two equal partners with complementary strengths”, and offers an “exciting opportunity to shape the future of education, training and skills in Bury, North Manchester and beyond”.

“The organisation will provide a more comprehensive, flexible and responsive curriculum offer, with the potential to improve access and increase choice for a broader range of learners at all levels,” the document adds.

'Less like a merger and more like a takeover'

But the unions contrasted the performance of Bury College, rating outstanding in its most recent Ofsted inspection, with that of the university, which has appeared near the bottom of university ranking tables.

Jenny Martin, regional organiser for Unison, said: “We believe that staff, students and the public should have been consulted about the various options available to the college. We are worried that any governance arrangements in the new organisation would leave the interests of Bury and further education under-represented. This looks less like a merger and more like a takeover.”

Martyn Moss, a UCU regional official, said: “Bury College rightly has a proud reputation for excellence and we do not believe serious questions about the future of education in Bury were answered in the flawed consultation process.

“It is not clear what the plans would mean for the curriculum, for staff jobs, or if students will have to travel outside Bury. The University of Bolton already has links to multiple colleges, both in and outside the UK, so Bury College is not being offered anything special from the institution.”

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