The University of Central England and East Birmingham College are about to make a formal merger proposal following months of public consultation on their ambitious plans to transform post-school education in the Midlands.
Tony Henry, principal of East Birmingham College, said it had been acknowledged for some time that there were too many further education colleges but merging them with nearby universities had not been an option envisaged until now.
If the merger is successful, which depends on a decision from the Further Education Funding Council and ultimately the Secretary of State for Education, then UCE plans to bring three other local colleges on board.
"We are looking at a community of 100,000 students and this completely changes the nature of university education in the United Kingdom," Mr Henry said. He added that other colleges, in particular some in London, were considering similar steps.
Under the proposal the college will cease to exist and all its assets and functions will be transferred to the university. Mr Henry said that 12 FE providers in Birmingham and another dozen within striking distance amounted to "a ridiculous amount of competition". This was particularly so, he added, when roughly 80 per cent of the local population had no contact with either further or higher education.
Mr Henry stressed that the plans would ensure everyone in the region who wanted to progress to university level education could do so.
David Warner, pro vice chancellor at UCE, said the distinction between further and higher education was blurring continually. "This will not be a one-off and could result in significant changes to tertiary education in the broader sense," he said.
While it is possible for the two institutions to work together now to enhance access for the local community, both parties feel their efforts are limited by the structures which separate further and higher education and by their different systems which impose unnecessary barriers.