DERBY University and two neighbouring colleges look set to become the United Kingdom's first fully merged higher and further education institution.
Proposals have been lodged with the Further and Higher Education Funding Councils to merge Mackworth College, in Derby, and High Peak College, in Buxton, with the university. The university hopes to achieve full merger by September next year.
Derby is also developing partnership arrangements with three other colleges in the area. South East Derbyshire, Burton upon Trent and Derby Wilmorton Colleges will retain their independence but will work together to offer students in Derbyshire a seamless educational structure with the flexibility to promote lifelong learning.
It is proposed that Mackworth and High Peak would become constituent colleges of the university, boosting the total student population to more than 20,000. The colleges would retain their names and sites but administrative and financial services would be centralised. No redundancies are planned and the institutions hope that by uniting they can increase their provision over time and so employ more lecturers.
Students enrolling at either college would be registered as students of the university. But there would be no pressure on them to progress to the university.
Derby's vice chancellor Roger Waterhouse, who sees the HE/FE divide as an historical accident, said: "Our basic intention is to take the educational product to the people. Regionalisation and the HE/FE interface are topics within the Dearing review. Ours is one of the ways these issues can be addressed. It is not the only way but my guess is that other universities and colleges may follow our model."
Mr Waterhouse said that staff pay and conditions would be protected during merger but that some convergence may occur in future. The merger proposal marks the end of two years of discussions and local consultations. Merger must ultimately be approved by the secretary of state for education and employment.