Notts tied up in row over annexe

14th November 1997 at 00:00
Dorothy Lepkowska on a city which appears unaware that co-operation is the order of the day.

Four Nottingham principals are demanding a Government inquiry into proposals for a rival "super-college" in the city.

Nottingham's largest college, Clarendon, wants to create a Pounds 17 million city centre annexe. The scheme is the first major education project in the country to get funding under the controversial Private Finance Initiative.

The plans have heightened the tensions that already exist between the principals of the eight Nottingham colleges, over competition for students and course provision.

This latest development could lead to a legal battle between the rival institutions, with Clarendon confirming it was seeking advice from lawyers on allegations made against it.

The heads of People's, South Nottingham, Broxtowe and Arnold and Carlton colleges, claim Clarendon's plans will in reality create a ninth FE institution, which will force them to cut staff and increase competition.

They believe the new annexe, which will be based in a listed building in Nottingham's Lace Market, will duplicate courses already being offered in the city.

The principals want the Education Secretary to investigate why Clarendon, in their eyes, is being allowed to undermine the other colleges. They claim the move is contrary to recent pronouncements by the minister, Baroness Blackstone, to end aggressive FE marketing.

They also want the Further Education Funding Council to explain why it is supporting the plan.

The new annexe is expected to have an annual budget of up to Pounds 8 million, and to employ about 200 staff. The college is hoping to enrol about 8,000 students. The expansion is part of a plan to merge Clarendon with another city college, Basford Hall, to form the Nottingham Regional College Group. The venture will create by far the largest college in Nottingham with almost 50,000 students and an annual turnover of Pounds 30m.

One principal, who asked not to be named, said of the Clarendon expansion: "We would like to know what the FEFC had in mind when it supported a capital project to create 12,000 square metres of additional space for Clarendon college, sufficient to cater for at least 8,000 new students.

"The scale of this development will overwhelm some colleges which are currently providing high quality and cost-effective education. These plans do not address the issue of low participation and under-achievement in the city."

Another said: "All along the message coming from Clarendon, was that this new site was going to replace existing provision and bring it all under one roof.

"It now appears that this is not the case. This is new provision, which will lead to a duplication of courses around the city leading to greater competition. It is empire-building, and comes at a time when we should all be getting together to discuss how FE in Nottingham can be made more cost-effective."

Patricia Morgan-Webb, principal of Clarendon, refuted claims that the venture was aimed at undermining other colleges. She said she was taking legal advice on the allegations.

"The project has had the approval of a number of Government departments over the past two years, including the DFEE, the Treasury, the Department of National Heritage and the PFI panel.

"This is not a proposal to create a ninth college. The students will not be new students, but those already on our books, attending programmes of study that we have been offering for years. In fact, some of the other colleges have opened up new programme areas within hundreds of yards of this college.

"The allegations being made against Clarendon are untrue and there is no need for an inquiry."

Clarendon College's corporation has sent a letter to Mr Blunkett correcting the "inaccuracies, misconceptions and misrepresentations" relating to FE provision in the city.

A spokeswoman for the FEFC said the proposed merger of Clarendon and Basford Hall was open to consultation. She added: "The FEFC has neither approved nor advocated the proposed merger not any suggestion that a new institution, the City College, be created in central Nottingham."

The spokeswoman said that the original approval by the FEFC for the development was not challenged by the other colleges when it was published in 1996.

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