Mergers 'not the best solution' for colleges, warns Sir Vince Cable

The former business secretary, who is leading a new NUS research project into FE, also questions the rationale behind the area reviews of colleges

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Mergers are “not the best solution” for colleges, and area reviews should focus more on the needs of students, according to Sir Vince Cable.

The former business secretary made the claims at the launch of a new research project he will be leading for the NUS students’ union.

"Students Shaping Further Education" will focus on the needs of students attending FE providers across the country. It will involve a series of visits and events, and will result in recommendations which the NUS say will “benefit students, communities and the economy”.

Sir Vince (pictured) told TES that he had experienced the area reviews first-hand as a governor of Richmond Adult Community College.

'Think of the students – not finances'

“An enormous amount of time and energy is being spent in colleges now with this reorganisation,” he said. “There seems to be almost a preordained belief that they’ve got to start amalgamating and we all know from past experience – and experience of business, actually – that amalgamation obviously is not the best solution.

"It’s a very finance-driven approach to problems, rather than a human approach. We need to be in a position with our study to challenge what comes out [of the area reviews]: is this going to provide a better experience for the people who really matter, the people who are studying?”

Shakira Martin, NUS vice-president for FE (pictured above with Sir Vince), said that the tone of many of the area review meetings that she had attended had been “really patronising” towards students.

“I have to continuously remind people around the table that we’re talking about students, because the word is never mentioned,” she said.

“Around all the political and education jargon that is there, I am continuously trying to remind [government representatives] that this is for the benefit of the students and, if they invested in colleges, they may not see the need to merge them."

The NUS project will focus also on improving school careers advice, lifelong learning and apprenticeships. It is expected that the final report and recommendations will be published in autumn 2017.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen is TES' Further Education Editor. He has worked at TES since 2010, and was previously the education correspondent at the Cambridge News. He was the winner of the award for Outstanding National Education Journalism at the CIPR Education Journalism Awards in 2015 and 2013.