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Peak practice provokes row

A row broke out this week after college funding chiefs backed the first large-scale merger of further and higher education institutions.

Regional officials from the Further Education Funding Council approved plans for the amalgamation of Derby University with neighbouring High Peak and Mackworth colleges.

The council must now vet the plans at national level, but Mike Taylor, High Peak's principal, said he was confident that the new merged university would be launched next August.

Mr Taylor said plans would involve expansion of FE in Derbyshire, but David Croll, principal of Derby Tertiary College, Wilmorton, said that he was deeply concerned about the merger plan.

He said: "Sixteen-year-olds will enrol at the university on modular programmes which will take them automatically through to a degree over five years. What happens to students from Wilmorton or local sixth forms? What guarantees will the FEFC and Higher Education Funding Council give to ensure that they are not excluded? What guarantees will there be given against preferential treatment?" The merger raises serious questions about links between FE colleges and universities in the week before Sir Ron Dearing publishes his long-awaited report on HE. Sir Ron is widely expected to recommend much closer FE and HElinks.

David Croll warned that mergers were a recipe for so-called "academic drift" from further to higher education and would damage traditional FE.

He said: "Further education is fundamentally different from the schools of a university, and it's imperative that FE provision is not lost in large-scale mergers."

Mr Taylor said the fine details of the Derby merger were still to be established, but students on access courses upwards would be students of the university.

He insisted, however, that merger proposals would contain guarantees on the preservation of FE work, and the inspection of that work by college inspectors.

He said: "There are assurances about safeguarding the FE involvement, which has been fundamental to the whole merger because it is so important to the region.

"The aim is an expansion of provision right across the region, very much in keeping with Helena Kennedy's report on widening participation and the development of lifelong learning."

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