GOVERNORS are being urged to consider radical ways of running their colleges, to promote mergers in the sector.
A new report from the Further Education Funding Council foresees more mergers as a result of proposed post-16 reforms. It says that since 1993 there have been 37 mergers involving FE colleges, with a big upsurge since 1997. This followed the 1997 election and the Labour Government's emphasis on collaboration and rationalisation.
The funding council report on mergers was commissioned by education minister Tessa Blackstone. It examined nine mergers implemented between May 1997 and August 1998. Eight mergers had taken place between colleges and higher education institutions.
A "potentially significant" new model of merged institution had shown up in the past two years, said the council.
This was the college group model. New College, Nottingham, was made up of Clarendon College, Nottingham, Basford Hall, High Pavement Sixth Form College and Arnold and Carlton. There was one vision of a group of colleges operating under a single corporatin, each with a degree of local autonomy.
The Learning and Skills Council, which is to come into existence in April 2001, is expected to encourage more mergers.
The FEFC is already holding discussions with principals and attempting to get colleges to talk to each other about merger. Where there are worries about the long-term financial viability of a college, future funding is made conditional on a merger taking place.
It was difficult to weigh up all the pros and cons of the nine mergers assessed because insufficient time had elapsed. Six of the nine merged colleges had suffered from a decline in enrolments because of the destablising effect of the process. Strategies to address this were being developed.
Although the financial benefits of mergers had not yet been shown, this was because restructuring was still going on. Six of the nine mergers involved one financially weak partner, and savings were offset by the costs of recovery.
Mergers in the Further Education Sector - a summary report. Published by the FEFC. 024 7683 3265