Neil Munro reports on the seventh annual FE conference in Perth, sponsored by The TES Scotland and Perth College
The head of the English FE inspectorate warned that partnerships or full-scale mergers between tertiary institutions must be genuine and not based on a short-term drive to boost student numbers.
Jim Donaldson, former chief inspector for both FE and HE in Scotland, said that the more enduring links between further and higher education south of the border "have been sustained by less pragmatic motives". These include a belief in the synergies of collaborative ventures and a desire "to extend opportunities to those presently excluded from higher education".
The Government has stepped up the pressure for closer links between the two sectors in England. There is pound;15.5 million to support collaboration between colleges and others, including the universities, and pound;10 million to promote mergers between colleges. The Scottish Office has set aside just over pound;2 million in the current year.
Mr Donaldson said he expected the 440 colleges in England to reduce in number. Since 1993 there have been four mergers between English FE colleges and HE institutions, and 16 mergers of colleges. The FE funding council is now considering another four FEHE mergers.
It is important to keep an "adequate and sufficient" FE presence in the area when a merger with HE takes place, Mr Donaldson said. This is a major factor in deciding whether a merger should be given the go-ahead. And if the combined institution fails to protect further education, the FE funding council could demand the return of the original college assets. Mr Donaldson also suggested that rationalisation should be investigated to "reduce duplication of the more popular offerings, which can often occur at the expense of minority interest courses, and do more to create centres of excellence."