Scottish colleges catch merger fever

July 11, 1997

A SHAKE-UP of Scottish colleges is under way, with three institutions negotiating mergers or forming closer links with universities. The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has put aside Pounds 10 million to pay for mergers this year.

St Andrews College of Education is forming a strategic alliance, and planning a possible future merger, with Glasgow University; the Scottish College of Textiles in Galashiels is to merge with Heriot-Watt University; and Moray House Institute of Education was set to confirm a merger with Edinburgh University this week.

The reorganisation reflects the increasing financial difficulty smaller institutions face under the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council's policy. St Andrews College was hardest hit with a 4.6 per cent cut in its SHEFC allocation, SCoT a 4.4 per cent drop, and Moray House a 2.6 per cent cut in funding for this academic year.

The main education union is alarmed at the rash of planned mergers. Marian Healy, further and higher education officer for the Educational Institute for Scotland, said institutions planning mergers often said there would be no job losses only to alter their stance later.

She said the decision by the three colleges to join "old" universities would harm the newer institutions.

* The decision by St Andrews has been influenced by the cap on teacher training student numbers. Principal Bart McGettrick said considering a merger with Glasgow was sensible, as smaller institutions would continue to be squeezed. Negotiations were at an early stage, but he was confident a deal could be reached to maintain the college's Catholic identity.

Acquiring the college appeals to Glasgow, as it would dramatically increase the size of its education faculty. The two institutions are also situated close to each other. September 1 next year is the proposed date for the merger.

* Funding pressures may also have played a part in the Scottish College of Textiles's decision to join with Heriot-Watt. Its poor research assessment exercise results - a 3B for metallurgy and materials, and a 2 for art and design - means it will receive funding only for the former.

Principal Christopher Maddox said funding cuts had made it very difficult for some institutions to survive. Heriot-Watt principal John Archer said that with sites in Orkney, Edinburgh and now Galashiels, the institution would become the first truly pan-Scottish university.

* The decision by Moray House confirms its divorce from Heriot-Watt. The institute had been an associated college of the university since 1990, but announced last November that it was holding merger talks with Edinburgh.

Principal Gordon Kirk said there would be no staff losses and that the merger offered Moray House a host of academic advantages. The target date for the merger is August 1, 1998.

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