Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Fears for Future of College Campuses; North MP Concerned at Merger of Further Education Establishments

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Fears for Future of College Campuses; North MP Concerned at Merger of Further Education Establishments

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Black

FEARS have been raised by an MP over the future of two college campuses in Northumberland if a proposed further education shake-up goes ahead.

Wansbeck Labour MP Ian Lavery said he has serious concerns the Northumberland College campuses in Ashington, and at Kirkley Hall near Ponteland, could be closed or downgraded following a proposed merger with the Newcastle College Group. Along with Blyth Valley Labour MP Ronnie Campbell, he is seeking written guarantees the two centres will be retained and improved before he will give his support to the merger plan.

Mr Lavery recently had talks with Northumberland College governors' chair Linda Ions, and said he has been unable to secure cast-iron guarantees about the future of the campuses. Yesterday his concerns were echoed by Ashington Mayor John McCormack - a former lecturer at the college - who said he is "fundamentally opposed" to what he describes as a takeover by NCG.

Northumberland College, which has been hit by financial problems, industrial unrest and the collapse of major building plans in recent years, revealed four months ago it wants to merge with NCG in a bid to secure its future.

A public consultation exercise has been launched, with local people and organisations having until June 17 to make their views known.

The consultation document said 2,500-student Northumberland College cannot continue as an independent college within the further education sector. It claims it is 'financially weak' and too small to meet the learning needs of its communities.

Governors said the aim of merger with NCG is to create a high-performing college that meets the learning and skills aspirations of the communities it serves.

The plan is that from January Northumberland College will operate as a division of NCG, managed by its own principal who will be part of the senior management team of NCG.

Yesterday Mr Lavery said: "I have got massive concerns about this merger. What we need is a written guarantee that Ashington and Kirkley Hall are going to be retained and improved, with the quality of their courses and learning maintained, and not some sort of asset-stripping exercise by NCG.

"It could be that the merger takes place and NCG decides to close and sell one or the other campus. I don't believe the Northumberland College governors have any guarantees about this and that is what I am calling for. …

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