A PIONEERING post-16 campus uniting further and higher education students could be in place within the next few years.
Education leaders in Staffordshire met this week to discuss ways of working together to serve the region, which has high unemployment and low staying-on rates among school-leavers. Until now, cut-throat competition has characterised its post-16 institutions, which are geographically close and attract many of the same students.
Christine King, vice chancellor of Staffordshire University, said the new approach could prove a model for changing patterns in relationships between further and higher education.
Staffordshire University is in the early stages of a Pounds 3 million joint project with Lichfield and Tamworth colleges to provide a building in Lichfield offering both higher and further education courses. It should be welcoming its first students by January next year. It is also about to sign an agreement with Newcastle-under-Lyme College to form "federated" links, a step below full-scale merger.
The proposed post-16 campus would include joint sports halls, arts complexes and dining halls as well as shared electronic libraries and possibly starter shops for newly qualified graduates wanting to start up small businesses. It could also include matching quality and credit systems and joint careers advice centres.
Kevin Farrell, chairman of governors at Stoke-on-Trent College, suggested the meeting following the dismissal of Stoke's former principal, Neil Preston, and discovery of debts of Pounds 8 million.
He said more collaboration was a way of helping his college out of difficulty while acting as encouragement to the many potential students in the Potteries area who were failing to take up education.
* Colleges are to receive Pounds 84 million growth money promised for the next two academic terms, after forcing a Government climb-down on threats to withhold the cash.
But, while in previous years they had access to unlimited funds for growth, any expansion next year will have to be covered by the Pounds 3 billion allocated to further education in last November's budget.
This will leave the sector up to Pounds 100 million worse off than it expected to be in 1997-98. The Further Education Funding Council is preparing consultation papers on how best to adjust next year's funding to help "share the pain". Likely options include funding franchised courses at a different rate and not funding certain types of these courses at all.