Bradford merger collapses

July 25, 2003

A plan to create the UK's first "comprehensive" university by merging Bradford University and Bradford College fell apart this week after 20 months of negotiations.

In a joint statement the two institutions said it had become clear that crucial decisions could not be reached in time to make the proposed merger practicable for the target date of August 2004.

They said the changing national agenda for the education of 14 to 19-year-olds and the important roles both institutions needed to play in the development of an inclusive education "blueprint" for Bradford were key to the decision.

Bradford University vice-chancellor Chris Taylor said: "After careful debate and fully acknowledging the enormously useful work of the past 20 months, the college and university believe that they can best serve Bradford's agenda as partner institutions at this time until the national agenda for 14-19 education becomes clearer."

Sources inside and outside the institutions say that the plans faltered amid fears that the merger was becoming a takeover by the university, and a growing concern that the attempt to create a university spanning entry-level further education through to postgraduate work might be "a stretch too far".

Two weeks ago it emerged that the two institutions had reached an impasse over the drafting of a charter. The university wanted to simply amend its existing charter, but the college insisted on a new one for the merged institution.

Paul Russell, a lecturer and Natfhe branch secretary at Bradford College, said the dispute eventually led to mistrust among management and staff.

He said: "The university might have thought that amending its charter was the quickest way, but the legal position is that that would have been a takeover."

The merger plans also came under pressure from West Yorkshire Learning and Skills Council, which was determined to prevent mission drift and to ensure that low-level work was protected.

Gary Rae, West Yorkshire LSC's executive director, said governors of both institutions had begun to realise that what they were planning was a "huge undertaking" that might be unachievable in the timescale they had set themselves.

"They were talking about a huge remit for the new institution and I think there was a concern that this might be a stretch too far. It was a noble vision, but it might be better achieved by ways other than merger," he said.

In their statement, the two institutions said they were still committed to their vision for a new model of post-compulsory education in Bradford, set out in a document drafted with their merger proposals. The document, Looking Further and Higher , said inclusive education was a necessary element in efforts to solve problems of racial tension and social divisions, identified in the Ouseley Report on the Bradford riots of 2001.

Further collaboration between the university and the college would involve more joint academic work and initiatives, such as a proposal to create an "educational village" in Bradford by combining and developing new further and higher education facilities and services in the city, they said.

Bradford's experience does not appear to have put mergers between FE and HE out of fashion. This week Berkshire Learning and Skills Council announced it was supporting a proposed merger between Thames Valley University and Reading College and School of Arts and Design.

The plans have similarities to the Bradford proposal, to create a "cradle to the grave" comprehensive university. TVU already has 6,000 FE students as well as 15,000 on HE courses, while Reading College has 1,000 HE students and 13,000 FE.

If approved by education secretary Charles Clarke, the merger could be completed by January next year.

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