Scottish pair get Dewar's blessing

June 26, 1998

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

Moray House Institute of Education and Edinburgh University have won approval from Scottish secretary Donald Dewar for their proposed merger, a bare six weeks before their target date of August 1, writes Olga Wojtas.

"The institute will benefit from integration with a major research-led institution and the university will benefit from the institute's expertise in teacher education and its well-established contacts with schools and the teaching and social work professions," Mr Dewar said.

There will now be a four-year "assimilation period" that aims to ensure Moray House is fully integrated into the university, rather than being a bolt-on extra. Some 80 per cent of the college will merge with Edinburgh's Institute for the Study of Education and Society and its teaching, learning and assessment centre to form a new faculty of education. Other college specialisms in social work and language studies will also merge with their university counterparts.

But this is not a portent of Scottish merger mania. There is no pressure towards mergers from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, which assesses proposals and advises the Scottish secretary. SHEFC's chief executive, John Sizer, insists proposals must be bottom up rather than top down.

The link between Moray House and Edinburgh is part of a pragmatic reassessment by Scotland's traditional monotechnic colleges of education. Their intakes are strictly controlled by the Scottish Office, bringing them under increasing financial pressure in recent years. Mergers appear to offer them a welcome stability.

There are no signs of any mergers between further and higher education institutions. And there has been little activity in further education, despite last year's call from Scottish education minister, Brian Wilson, for the 43 FE colleges to come forward with proposals.

Since then, only one bid, from Glasgow College of Building and Printing and Glasgow College of Food Technology, has reached the stage of consultation. Mr Wilson has rejected it, while conceding it would be likely to have educational and financial benefits. He said he was not convinced it would improve further education provision in Glasgow.

Earlier this month, addressing the Association of Scottish Colleges' annual conference, Mr Wilson again stressed the need to take account of the broader picture. The door to merger proposals remained "wide open" where there were clear benefits all round, and fewer colleges would mean a more financially robust further education sector.

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