FUNDING councils are covertly putting pressure on institutions to merge, it was claimed this week.
Professor David Warner, principal of Swansea Institute of Higher Education, told a conference that the councils applied a straight political push. He has collaborated with two colleagues on a book about mergers, which was published this week. "They will absolutely deny it. But we have a large amount of evidence, some of it taped. It actually happens far more often than you think."
He was backed up by Frank Griffiths, deputy vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, who spoke on the merger between his institution and Harrogate College of Further Education.
The university was minded to merge with a college, although it did not then have Harrogate in mind. "Quite unknown to the senior management of the university, the college (Harrogate) had received a thinly-coded message from the Further Education Funding Council that it should consider its future as an individual institution.
"For largely financial reasons the board of governors of the college was told in the early autumn of 1996 that merger with another institution was the only viable way forward," he said.
Professor Warner said that by 2010 up to 50 per cent of all UK further and higher education institutions would have an involvement to some degree with another body.
"There will be HE-HE, and FE-FE mergers but by the end of the decade the most common form of new relationship will be that involving FE-HE and, despite what appears to be the case now, this will be Government-driven."
A spokesman for the FEFC said: "In the case of mergers, it is the decision of the individual corporations if they wish to merge, and we do not exert undue pressure for them to do so."