Northern College loses its separate identity more reluctantly than other colleges of education, but there was no surprise in the announcement that it is abandoning the struggle to remain independent. The only doubts were about how long it could hold out and what its eventual partner or partners would be.
Had it not existed in two cities it would surely have gone in with a university before now. The college was born out of independent predecessors in Aberdeen and Dundee. When teacher numbers fell and colleges were being closed, politicians could not bring themselves to abolish teacher training in one or other centre. So an artificial link was created, and the principal, David Adams, made it his mission to forge rationality out of artificiality.
In the end the quest was fruitless both because of strains in the two-centre arrangement (with its excess capacity, especially in Dundee) and because narrowly based institutions of higher education were out of favour and struggled for resources. It is a pity that the good work done in the college was tainted latterly by the farcical decision to claim that almost all academic staff were active researchers: the result in the universities' research selectivity exercise was humiliating and meant a continuing lack of the money that the bid had been intended to secure.
In a climate that has forced Jordanhill and Moray House to seek the embrace of university partners, a smaller college was never going to survive. The division between the bits that go to Aberdeen University and those taken by Dundee University will be anxiously awaited by the staff. A split on geographic terms alone will not work. The tricky negotiations that accompany mergers such as that being discussed by Glasgow University and St Andrew's College will be made more difficult when there are three participants.
In the end money will talk. The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council will have given its informal blessing to last week's announcement. So will the Scottish Office, whose role in setting student teacher numbers has both kept the institution in being and has at the same time restrained its development because of the annual quotas. Like other colleges Northern has created business outwith teacher education, but not enough to offset limitations on its core activity. The SHEFC is likely to make funds available for restructuring, although there will also be substantial calls from Edinburgh University and Moray House as well as Glasgow and St Andrew's.
The Dearing and Garrick reports, together with the associated report on teacher education by Sir Stewart Sutherland, are cited as signalling the need to bring colleges of education within universities. The pointers go further back. Once the teacher shortages of the sixties and seventies were over, no Government of either party felt beholden to the colleges.