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`We were too ambitious with the time we needed'

Merger `hard to deliver', admits Edinburgh College's principal

Merger `hard to deliver', admits Edinburgh College's principal

The people in charge of the merger of three Edinburgh colleges underestimated the challenges involved and have found it "hard to deliver" the ambitious business plan, a senior figure has admitted.

Elaine McMahon, interim principal of the merged Edinburgh College, told a conference on Scotland's colleges last week that senior managers had failed to respect the "very different cultures" of the three previous institutions - Telford, Stevenson, and Jewel and Esk colleges.

"We felt we didn't respect enough the legacy of those colleges," she said. "There is always an emotional attachment, and maybe we should have taken account of that more. We know we didn't take account of a number of things."

Ms McMahon told the audience in Edinburgh that the new college had underestimated the "bell curve" that institutions went through during the merger process, from the excitement of the announcement to the realisation that there would be changes to systems and structures.

She added: "We were too ambitious with the time that would be needed to implement the new management structure."

Since the merger in 2012, the college has faced a range of challenges, including industrial action by lecturing staff over changes to their terms and conditions.

Last year, it was reported that the college, one of the largest in Scotland, was facing a pound;1.7 million deficit. According to its student association, it experienced a real-terms funding cut of nearly 30 per cent between 2009-10 and 2013-14, and lost 7.5 per cent of its provision, or about 1,000 full-time places.

Ms McMahon said the college's business plan had been "hard to deliver on", and also acknowledged there could be no denying that "Edinburgh College does not have as many students as it did when we merged".

However, she said the college was now moving forward and focusing on "truth, transparency and trust".

"We are about students before politics," she said, adding: "Strategy around governance needs to be clear. We also need to think about rewarding our staff not just in terms of money, but also in terms of recognition and respect."

Ms McMahon said there had been a number of successes already, including the building of a strong student association, which she described as "the best I have seen at any college anywhere, north or south of the border".

She praised the college's academies system, which allows it to work with local universities and Edinburgh city council to "provide routes with smooth transition points for learners".

The interim principal also pointed to plans to "radically reshape the college" to make it fit for the demands of the future. "This is going to be a world-class college for a world-class city," she said.

Ms McMahon took up her Edinburgh College role in November, after then principal Mandy Exley announced in October she would be leaving to pursue other interests.

Earlier this month, Edinburgh College announced that Annette Bruton, former director of education in Aberdeen and current chief executive of the Care Inspectorate, would take on the post of principal before the start of the next academic year.

Speaking at the same conference, Dr John Kemp, director of access, skills and outcome agreements at the Scottish Funding Council, said Edinburgh College's academies system was a great example of successful cooperation between colleges, local authorities and universities.

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