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Now Manchester: New alliances are transforming the FE landscape

It is a tumultuous time for further education in England, with new partnerships, agreements and mergers changing the face of sector.

Thanks to the freedoms and flexibilities recently given to colleges by the government, many are now looking at new and radical ways of doing business.

These include providing higher education courses, enrolling younger students or linking with schools and academies to provide a wider offer.

While college mergers have often hit the headlines, both for positive and negative reasons, many colleges are collaborating in other ways.

For example, a unique partnership recently formed between ten of the largest colleges in Greater Manchester is aiming to tackle low skills and unemployment in the region. 

Three years in the making, the Greater Manchester Colleges Group has set up a joint venture company making it the first of its kind in a city region in England.

Robin Newton-Syms, the group’s partnership director, told TES the principals of the ten colleges were struggling to attract EU funding as individual entities. But his quote speaks to a wider story revealing itself across further education.

“We decided the best thing to do was join forces so we would have more muscle,” he said.

The group recently secured its first successful bid from the European Union Social Fund, a £14 million package to help improve the skills of local people currently in work.

Together the colleges contribute more than £500million to the Greater Manchester economy each year, and Mr Newton-Syms said they now have the potential to help local businesses grow by offering specialist training and skills development.

And the future could see even more collaboration, including shared expertise and facilities and possibly even mergers.

As the range of opportunities for colleges continues to widen, and with encouragement from the government, expect to see more schemes like this developing in the coming years.

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