Midland colleges shake-up

May 14, 1999

Midlands further education faces massive restructuring if the Further Education Funding Council confirms the closure of Bilston Community College, Wolverhampton, this week.

The council also discussed possible over-provision in neighbouring Birmingham at a meeting of its re-organisation committee on Wednesday evening as The THES went to press. This raises questions over the city's troubled Matthew Boulton College.

The committee was set to ratify its inquiry's recommendation to close Bilston following the collapse of management and governance, debt in excess of Pounds 10 million and fraud squad investigations.

Bilston could be the first forcibly closed college since incorporation in 1992. Its 10,000 students - and hundreds of staff - are likely to be brought under the umbrella of a new multi-campus corporation, created by a merger with Wolfrun College.

Called Millennium College, it has local community support and was conceived by Wolverhampton University. It would form the lynch-pin of a "Wolverhampton-wide solution to further education needs in the town", said the inquiry report and could become a lifelong learning model.

Less certain is the fate of Matthew Boulton College, where widespread mismanagement was revealed.

Early this year FEFC inspectors gave the college one of the worst-ever inspection reports, which condemned a "failure to account for public funds". The inspectors said it was too soon to assess the effectiveness of recovery plans brought in by new principal Christine Braddock, who initiated mass redundancies.

The college, an IT centre of excellence and a leader in print industry training, is seen by the FEFC as an "over provider" that could be split up between its six neighbouring colleges.

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