Shared Future for Further and Higher Education Institutions; Just When You Think the 'Transformation Agenda' Has Been Shelved, the Issue of Institutional Merger Raises Its Head Again and Education Leaders Have Been Alerted to the Possibility of a New Dual-Sector Approach to Delivery. Here Education Editor Gareth Evans Considers Recent Developments and Plots a New Course for Colleges and Universities in South-East Wales

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), October 15, 2015 | Go to article overview

Shared Future for Further and Higher Education Institutions; Just When You Think the 'Transformation Agenda' Has Been Shelved, the Issue of Institutional Merger Raises Its Head Again and Education Leaders Have Been Alerted to the Possibility of a New Dual-Sector Approach to Delivery. Here Education Editor Gareth Evans Considers Recent Developments and Plots a New Course for Colleges and Universities in South-East Wales


Byline: Gareth Evans

O MERGE or not to merge? That, is the question.

At least that was the question posed to governors at two of Wales' biggest colleges recently. And the verdict? Let's just say resulting talks were inconclusive.

While Coleg Gwent sought to make clear that it had no intention of merging or creating a "grouptype structure" with Cardiff and Vale College (CAVC), its potential suitors were far more open to the idea.

Governors at CAVC spoke of their disappointment that a "shared vision and set of core values" had not been forthcoming and vowed to continue investigating "all sensible opportunities to meet the changing circumstances we face in Wales".

They said the case for a "stepchange" in how the further education (FE) sector supports its communities and employers was "unarguable" and "the option of remaining as 'standalone' institutions provide little, if no advantage, in the longer term".

Not surprisingly, it is public funding that is changing quicker and to a greater extent than all else at the moment.

It is the key catalyst for collaboration.

Colleges have been hit hard by a reshuffling of Welsh Government priorities and unions predict as many as 1,000 jobs could disappear from the FE sector in Wales as a result of PS26m cuts to the post-16 education budget.

If merger isn't an option now, one suspects it will be the only option for some of Wales' publicly-funded education providers moving forward.

But the die, in South-East Wales at least, has already been cast.

A feasibility study into closer partnership working between CAVC and Gwent recommended that the colleges "support, in principle, the proposal of merger with the intention of creating a federated 'group' structure".

It noted that "realignment to a more regional approach will, in the longer term, improve financial stability, enabling both colleges to strengthen the curriculum and quality of provision".

It added: "Simply facing cuts, year-on-year, is no longer a way forward."

CAVC's governing body said it "unanimously agreed" with the report's forthright conclusions.

But that is not all and while CAVC and Gwent muse over how best to take forward their relationship, the University of South Wales (USW) has opened debate on a more radical option.

An email drafted by USW and leaked to the Western Mail put forward the basis for a regional group structure that would bind further and higher education institutions together.

It called for an "imaginative but realistic response" to reductions in government funding and warned that failure to act would lead to universities and colleges being "less effective" and "failing to underpin their local economies".

It said institutions in the region "need to have the size and reputation to secure investment, share high-quality support services and influence government, business and industry".

The blueprint raised the possibility of the region's three universities and six colleges working closer together in a dual-sector group structure, similar to that developing in South-West Wales.

But the haste in which both Cardiff University and Cardiff Metropolitan University sought to distance themselves from USW's proposals suggests they will not be signing up to formal collaboration any time soon.

USW would not in all honesty have expected Cardiff nor Cardiff Met to rush forward with open arms.

After all, Cardiff is already way out in front of any other institution in Wales and Cardiff Met is, according to its vice-chancellor, recruiting to target and growing its staffing base.

Neither is an institution in decline and both appear more than happy in their own skin. …

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Shared Future for Further and Higher Education Institutions; Just When You Think the 'Transformation Agenda' Has Been Shelved, the Issue of Institutional Merger Raises Its Head Again and Education Leaders Have Been Alerted to the Possibility of a New Dual-Sector Approach to Delivery. Here Education Editor Gareth Evans Considers Recent Developments and Plots a New Course for Colleges and Universities in South-East Wales
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