Plans for the first full university-college merger lay in tatters this week after one of the suitors walked out at the eleventh hour.
Mackworth College in Derby pulled out of the proposed Derbyshire Regional University last Friday, just as the proposed merger was being passed to Ministers for formal consultation.
The three-way merger between Mackworth, Derby University and High Peak College, Buxton, had been approved by the further and higher education funding councils before Mackworth's U-turn.
In a statement Mackworth principal Alan Harrison said his college wanted to face the future as an independent body.
He said: "We fully support the vision behind the merger and would want to continue working closely with the university in the future. We wish High Peak College and the university well in that part of the merger proposal that proceeds and assure them of our full support."
A draft strategic plan for the proposed regional university, seen by The TES, reveals the extent of the takeover planned by higher education staff.
The confidential draft shows the merged institution - which would have had more than 50 per cent of its students on FE programmes, would have been run by the university's high council rather than by the two college boards.
Two college governors had already been appointed to the council, but more members with "a good knowledge and understanding of FE" were to have been appointed when university governors dropped out.
Derby University vice chancellor Professor Roger Waterhouse would have assumed overall control of the institution.
The university's board of directors were to remain in control and draw up strategic plans for all subjects, covering courses at HE and FE levels. The principals of High Peak and Mackworth were to be the only FE representatives.
Day-to-day management would have stayed with individual colleges and departments.
Professor Waterhouse said: "The prosperity of the region is much dependent upon our shared vision for lifelong learning which is in turn dependent upon the university and the colleges working closely together."
University pro-chancellor Alan Woods added: "We wish everyone at Mackworth College well and look forward to a continuing good relationship with further education in the region."
As The TES went to press it was unclear whether work would continue on a two-way merger between High Peak and Derby University.
But it is thought that High Peak intends to pursue talks. Principal Mike Taylor said he would continue to work with the university.
Both principals had been involved in the intensive work to merge university and college departments.
The proposed regional university would have had a Pounds 66 million-a-year turnover and 2,000 staff. The institution would have enrolled around 15, 000 FE students and 1,400 HE students.
It was the subject of intense controversy, attracting bitter opposition from neighbouring Derby Wilmorton college and expressions of concern from student leaders.
All the university and college sites would have been maintained, with a promise that FE provision would be increased.
FEFC chief executive David Melville said a two-way merger was still possible. He said: "We would want to work with the colleges to see how, if they want to progress, we can expedite the process.
"It's a different proposal but we would want to look to see what we might need to go through now."