Northern Ireland

June 26, 1998

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

Speculation continues of possible further mergers of further and higher education colleges in Northern Ireland partly as a result of incorporation, writes Noel McAdam.

A recent Coopers and Lybrand report for the Department of Education still under wraps is believed to have concluded that four of the colleges have question marks over their viability although closures or even amalgamations are unlikely.

It is six years since the province's 24 colleges were reduced to 17, setting up five "institutes". That came two years after the Belfast Colleges were fused together. But unlike England and Wales, no culture of cut-throat competition has developed.

The most immediate impact will come from the new funding mechanism that comes into effect next year and could exacerbate existing financial problems.

Most eyes will be on the new assembly, which is being elected today, as it takes over responsibility for education. Will the administration recognise the importance of FE for economic development or fall back on the traditional grammar school record of excellence. And will it back it up with investment?

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