Mergers add up

19th June 2009 at 01:00

The recent analysis on college mergers ("A strategic union can bring greater fortune than staying single", June 5) was both timely and pertinent. I can only endorse Peter Tavernor's view that it is educational value that must be the driver, with a viable financial model as the necessary engine.

The extract you quoted from Models for Success, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills document, expressed this concern in a more forthright manner when it spoke of mergers being potentially detrimental "to the interests of learners, employers and communities, in terms of reducing choice and undermining local ownership and accountability".

This danger is real, but it can and should be avoided. At South Staffordshire College, we merged four campuses and opened our doors to students in January 2009. Each of the campuses had distinct characteristics in terms of its prospectus and learner profile. In common with other successful mergers, we have looked to maximise the potential of this to provide much more opportunity for progression for the communities we serve. The board has set up campus committees whose brief is improving social cohesion through enhanced educational value.

Another issue that added to our case for merger was the exciting prospect of being able to establish specialist facilities across the campuses, something that the pre-merger colleges, along with many smaller colleges, have difficulty in achieving.

When the Prime Minister chose South Staffordshire College to visit recently, he spoke of us "serving the whole community".

We undertook a detailed review of our progress after our first 100 days. While many things were identified under the banner of management and administration, there was well over one improvement per day directly related to learning and teaching.

Merger isn't the answer to all colleges' problems. In my opinion, mergers based mainly on improved financial performance are unlikely to be successful. But, strategic mergers between willing and compatible partners have the potential to engage learners and communities, improve opportunity and enhance local ownership and accountability.

Graham Morley, Chief executive principal, South Staffordshire College.

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