THE Scottish Executive's hopes of creating a streamlined further education sector in Glasgow have been dealt a blow by the decision of North Glasgow College to pull out of merger talks with Stow College.
Moves to combine the three city centre colleges, however, are said to be "making good progress" following a joint meeting of the boards of management last week.
The discussions involving Stow and North Glasgow ran into the sand following a decision by North Glasgow's board "not to take the question of merger any further at this time".
In a curt response, the Stow board expressed its disappointment "given the amount of time and effort devoted to this exercise". But it added that it accepted "the right of North Glasgow College's board of management to change its mind". The two would none the less collaborate where appropriate.
A merger of the two colleges was recommended by consultants from KPMG, whose report pointed to the weak financial position of North Glasgow which at one stage had a cumulative deficit of pound;2.39 million, nearly six times that of Stow.
But the college's finances are believed to have improved and it has clearly decided this is not the handicap to going it alone it might once have been.
Decisions have been taken to cut costs, including the closure of the college's Barmulloch centre. North Glasgow's position will have been helped by a 5.6 per cent rise in its grant and fee income from the FE funding council for the next academic session, one of the biggest increases.
This added support from the funding council is ironic since it has thrown its weight behind rationalisation of Glasgow colleges as a precondition of priority for increased investment in their buildings. A report from KPMG in 2001, endorsed by the council, recommended that the number of colleges in Glasgow should be halved from 10 to five.
Further inadvertent influence on North Glasgow's board came from Roger McClure, the funding council's chief executive, whose ideas on "wider ideas of collaboration" were cited by the college as a factor persuading it to kick any merger into the long grass.
There has also been speculation that considerable political lobbying on behalf of retaining a stand-alone college had been undertaken by Paul Martin, the local Labour MSP whose Springburn constituency is among the most deprived in Britain.
Meanwhile the boards at Glasgow College of Building and Printing, the Central College of Commerce and Glasgow College of Food Technology will meet later this month to put what are expected to be the final touches to merger plans.
Tom Wilson, the College of Building and Printing principal who is in the driving seat, said last week's meeting was simply to "titivate" the proposals. Good progress had been made and he foresaw no last-minute hitches.
There are no redundancy concerns since there are no major overlaps in the curricula of the three colleges, Mr Wilson said.
The colleges have already agreed that they should combine in one new building in the city centre, although not necessarily in the existing locations.