'Super college' plans under way

11th December 2009 at 00:00
But question mark hangs over future of Stow as continued refusal to merge with three others could lose it many key courses

Stow College in Glasgow has come under the severest pressure yet from the Scottish Funding Council, which is demanding that it gives up many of its courses.

The council has put the spotlight once again on Stow's future, after the college angered influential SFC figures by refusing to become part of the pound;300 million merger which will create a "super college" in Glasgow city centre. The other institutions, Glasgow Metropolitan, Central and Glasgow College of Nautical Studies, have agreed to combine in the "New College Glasgow" project.

As part of its planning to decide on the space and funding required for different aspects of teaching, the council has begun consultations on what the curriculum in the city centre colleges - and Glasgow's five "community colleges" beyond - should look like.

The council's consultation paper argues that the city centre colleges should concentrate on five areas: business and management; construction; engineering; IT; and science. The paper also suggests that the new college should support growth in the so-called "stem" subjects - science, technology, engineering and maths. It should also allow for a "modest" growth in higher education programmes and increased demand as the economy recovers when the new campus is completed - in 2014 at the earliest.

The college would be expected to develop strong links with - and use the facilities of - its near neighbours, Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian universities.

It states: "We consider that this consolidation will permit economies of scale, improve the viability of niche provision, allow greater articulation through to degree level, maximise the use of expensive facilities, focus on industry sectors' needs and improve the service to learners."

But this approach places a huge question mark over the future of Stow. The funding council says its role in the new scenario would be "a more focused one on a smaller range of curriculum provision". It would hold talks with Stow and its board "to ensure its viability were any consolidation of provision to go ahead".

Stow College has calculated that half of its pound;8 million funding could be diverted to the new college to support "consolidation". Bob McGrory, its principal, said this posed "a real and serious threat to the continued existence of Stow College".

Despite the funding council's assertion that Stow could continue to be viable, even if it lost key courses and staff to the new college, Mr McGrory said the college's initial analysis "does not support this view and this causes us grave concern".

Although the SFC paper concentrates on provision in the city centre college, its plans have wide ramifications for FE throughout Glasgow. This will particularly affect the five other colleges in the city - Anniesland, Cardonald, John Wheatley, Langside and North Glasgow.

The council is proposing that some courses should be concentrated in these and not offered by the new college. Health courses, for example, are already consolidated in Cardonald and Anniesland, and the council will not fund specialisms in that area, or build facilities for them.

Similarly, Anniesland and North Glasgow have built up expertise in the performing arts, and the expensive facilities for dance and studio space should not be replicated in the city centre "learning quarter", the SFC suggests.

The council's analysis also takes account of external factors which will affect its approach to the curriculum, teaching space and funding in the new college. The 16-24 age group, for example, will shrink by around 14 per cent by 2014, and they account for 67 per cent of the student activity in the city centre colleges. In addition, the working population is forecast to remain static up to 2031 in Glasgow.

The SFC view is that this will require colleges to deliver more part-time and work-based learning, which will mean the council will have to fund less student activity and colleges will not be so "space hungry".

It plans to reduce city centre provision by 5 per cent. The result is that the number of student learning hours, funded through the council's weighted units of measurement (WSUMS), will be cut back from 235,918 to around 210,500 (one SUM equates to 40 hours of classroom-based attendance).

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