Reaching higher and further

17th June 2016 at 00:00

Back in November, FErret’s colleagues reported that university tanks were lining up on the lawn of FE, preparing to plunder the sector’s lives, freedom and funding (see

It transpired that those dastardly higher education institutions, not content with the riches being wheelbarrowed in their direction by ministers and students alike, were increasingly offering their own foundation programmes, and even provision paid for by the Skills Funding Agency, to supplement their wealth.

Southampton Solent University’s strategic plan even suggested that it was looking into the possible “acquisition” of FE providers, as well as opening its own school for level 3 provision.

Bolt-on provision

Since then, this situation has continued to develop. Most striking was the news that the University of Bolton was proposing to merge with Bury College.

The consultation on these plans has now ended. Subject to stakeholder approval, the merger is scheduled to take place as soon as 12 August. The word on the streets of Greater Manchester is that Bolton College may well be following not too far behind.

The aspect of this move that most intrigues FErret is that Bury College’s own academy trust runs two local primary schools. He wonders if the bigwigs of Bolton have quite grasped what they’re letting themselves in – and assuming responsibility – for? Sats, Spag and phonics for a start. Good luck with that, chaps.

This is a fascinating move on many levels, and when looked at in conjunction with the explosion of HE in FE provision in recent years (almost one in 10 degrees is now delivered by an FE college), highlights the fluidity between the sectors.

The Coventry conundrum

The latest news to catch FErret’s eye is an intriguing partnership linking East London and the West Midlands. Coventry University has created a new subsidiary company, Coventry University College Ltd, offering HNDs, access to HE programmes, foundation courses and the like.

And after setting up camp in the university’s home town, it is now planning to expand into the capital by leasing Dagenham Civic Centre to offer 3,000 HE places. How exciting for this corner of East London to have access to some flexible HE provision.

Only, it turns out that they already do. A mile as the crow flies from Coventry’s new outpost is Barking and Dagenham College, which already boasts more than 300 HE students on its books. Word has it that local FE providers are distinctly unimpressed by a new competitor with no local connections muscling into the market. Here’s one to keep an eye on.

The only way?

Competition between the sectors works both ways, however. Earlier this month, Colchester Institute unveiled the new University Centre Colchester (UCC). The college has offered degrees for more than 50 years, but has now decided to rebrand its HE centre to flag up its offerings.

The move by the Essex college has been given the green light by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and HE funding body Hefce.

As college principal Alison Andreas puts it: “For undergraduates, UCC is a recognition of their ability and potential and now they can genuinely say: ‘We’re off to uni’.” Well, that’s not quite true. But it amounts to a powerful statement of intent.

The next move’s down to you, HE.

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