Mystery firm saves courses

A-level courses at a Berkshire college won a last-minute reprieve this week after an unprecedented deal with a commercial sponsor, writes Harvey McGavin.

Around 25 first-year science students at Newbury college were distraught after being told that A-level courses in biology, chemistry and physics were being cancelled just two weeks after they began.

College principal Gordon Bull said low enrolments caused by competition from school sixth forms were behind the decision to close the courses. The college has seen its share of the 16 to 18 market diminish as three schools in the area have opened sixth forms in the past three years. Another two schools are due to merge, adding a new sixth form, next year.

"The root of the problem is that there is too much provision," Mr Bull said. "These were the courses making the greatest loss and in the overall budget we felt we couldn't sustain them any more."

But the courses will now go ahead with the financial backing of an, as yet, unnamed business. Mr Bull refused to identify the company involved until the deal had been finalised but the two-year contract could be worth as much as Pounds 50,000 to the college.

He said: "This highlights the continuing funding crisis in FE and the problem of a lack of strategic planning at a local level when you have got colleges, grant-maintained and local authority schools all playing on the same field. "

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