Merger or collision?

27th May 2011 at 01:00

Anyone who has been close to the mergers in the FE sector over the last 10 years would not be at all surprised by the research findings published in last week's FE Focus ("Merger hopefuls told to take a different tack", 20 May). There have been numerous mergers, which could be categorised as the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good are the ones where it is recognised that an entirely new situation is being created and where exhaustive advance planning and modelling takes place to look at the potential benefits and costs. But then we see the aftermath of the ugly mergers, and they more often resemble a collision.

All too often, emergency corrective actions are needed after a collision- type merger to save the new institution from meltdown. This is usually because unrealistic assumptions were made due to over-enthusiasm for the merger to happen. Examples we have encountered include "There will be no redundancies!" or "This will not affect your terms and conditions!" - or even "The way the curriculum is delivered will not be affected!"

In my experience, mergers can work if they are properly planned, well in advance, by a strong management team supported by realistic expectations from supportive governors. What should be of greater concern, however, is the alternative being suggested. One management team and two governing bodies. How will that work then? This sounds like a product of the "let's have two funding bodies" brigade, and we all know how successful that has been.

The Government has stated on a number of occasions that it would like to see the private sector being involved in the running of colleges. If that is the case, then let us take a leaf out of the private sector's book and abandon this idea before it is launched. Name one successful commercial organisation that has one chief executive and two boards of directors. I rest my case.

Malcolm Cooper, Managing director, MCA Cooper Associates.

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