The Metropolitan and Stow colleges are close to a merger deal that would make them Scotland's largest FE education college, but funding is a crucial sticking point
Scotland's largest further education college could be established by Christmas if merger talks between Glasgow Metropolitan and nearby Stow colleges are successful.
Discussions between the two institutions, which would have a combined budget of pound;36 million, 28,500 students and 750 staff, are at an advanced stage and have been "cordial and constructive" so far.
But they are now entering a crunch week, and The TESS understands that several critical issues remain to be resolved. The first test will be a meeting of the Stow board of management on March 26, when they will decide if there is enough benefit for the college. Sources suggest that if there is insufficient agreement on a number of key points, a deal will be off.
Potential sticking points include the harmonisation of staff terms and conditions, the balance of membership in the new board, and the filling of staff vacancies internally to save costs.
Agreement also depends on financial support from the Scottish Government and the Scottish Funding Council. The colleges will look to previous merger deals, such as that between Falkirk and Clackmannan colleges to form Forth Valley College, which received pound;3 million from the funding council to cover merger and start-up costs.
One sweetener for Stow, the smaller of the two colleges, could be the agreement that Bob McGrory, its principal, would become principal designate of the new college following the departure of Tom Wilson, principal at the Met, who is due to retire at the end of the year.
The boards of management at the two colleges are believed to have been spurred on by growing frustration over the pace of the plans to establish a pound;300 million super campus in Glasgow, involving the four city centre colleges of the Met, Stow, Central College and the College of Nautical Studies.
The plans are being driven by the funding council, although the project continues to have many sceptics in Glasgow. After being mooted for about six years and having had 21 meetings of the estates strategy steering group, it has only just appointed a project manager.
The current timescale, which envisages the first brick being laid in 2010, with completion by 2018, is regarded by some in the colleges as unacceptable. But the signal they are receiving is that this is the only game in town and they will not receive any cash to modernise their facilities if they do not play ball.
The crucial merger talks between Glasgow Met and Stow follow hard on the heels of the collapse of plans by the Met and the Nautical College to come together. Stow has already rejected any move to embrace either of the other two city centre colleges. Essentially, therefore, they will have nowhere else to turn except towards the super campus.
Some members of the Stow board, however, are long-standing sceptics of the project and might well push to withdraw from it.