Leeds awaits Blunkett's decision on its big double wedding

June 26, 1998

Hitches of getting hitched. To merge or not to merge, that is the question. THES reporters ponder the pitfalls

Leeds has two big mergers in the pipeline, both awaiting the final approval of secretary of state for education David Blunkett, writes Alison Utley.

If the planned marriage of Park Lane and Airedale and Wharfedale College goes ahead, it will create the largest further education institution in West Yorkshire with ,000 students and over 800 full-time equivalent staff.

The merger initiative came from Airedale, which was struggling with a financial crisis on top of a negative funding council inspection. Inspectors gave it the lowest possible 5 rating for governance and management and 4 for quality assurance. The college was also facing a big but undisclosed deficit and its future was in doubt.

Merger was seen as the best hope of saving the college from closure and the corporation wrote to all higher and further education institutions within a 20-mile radius offering marriage. Initially Thomas Danby College took the bait but discussions collapsed as Thomas Danby had its own financial problems. Finally last August, Park Lane stepped up.

Both colleges claim the merger will improve provision in the area.

Leeds Metropolitan University is also waiting for the go-ahead from the secretary of state for its merger with Harrogate College.

The university had considered merging with Airedale, too, but talks collapsed when it emerged the institutions' strategies were incompatible.

Vice-chancellor Leslie Wagner says his mission is to create a university of applied education. When Harrogate approached him about a merger therefore, the scene was already set.

The two institutions are expected to become one in August and higher education provision should be strengthened across a 750-square mile area across North Yorkshire.

Lecturers' unions have expressed concerns about mergers across the HE/FE divide since pay and working conditions in the college sector tend to be weaker. The university has stressed that no job losses are anticipated.

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