Leeds Metropolitan University has taken the first steps towards merger with a nearby further education college this week. If the new affiliation is judged a success LMU and Airedale and Wharfedale College could become one in six months' time.
Vice chancellor Leslie Wagner said both the college and the university could benefit from a merger because a more intimate relationship with FE would be necessary in the near future. "Whichever government is returned it is clear that two years from now, or even earlier, we will be facing significant changes in the organisation and possibly financing of further and higher education," he said.
Professor Wagner said moves at this stage were cautious and as a first step towards merger an affiliation agreement has been signed this week with Airedale, already an associate college of the university. The agreement means integrated provision will be developed within a common academic regulatory framework.
"I am not interested in shoring up a weak college," Professor Wagner said, "but there is no evidence that the pressure from Government over efficiency gains is likely to slacken. One response is to diversify our sources of income and this is being pursued energetically. In parallel additional avenues such as the establishment of strategic alliances, the spreading of overhead costs and the achievement of economies of scale must also be pursued."
If a merger were to go ahead Professor Wagner said there would be some efficiency gains as resources would be pooled. Financial matters such as joint assets and staffing matters had not yet been addressed and he stressed that finances were not the driving force.
The core vision of the university was to become an institution which covered all education levels from the lower NVQs up to PhD. "Quality is not linked to level," Professor Wagner said.
If all educational and training needs were met within a single framework, access to a wide group of students would be assured with simpler progression routes. In addition he said a joined institution would find it easier to respond to outside agencies and commercial customers.