Originally published in The Cardonald Courier in November 2011. This piece was shortlisted for news story of the year at the 2012 Scottish Student Journalism Awards
CARDONALD College Glasgow is in merger talks with Anniesland College, the Cardonald Courier can reveal.
Staff at both colleges were informed of the news at simultaneous meetings on Wednesday 16 November and college principal, Susan Walsh, confirmed that the two colleges are considering a merger, although insisted no decision has yet been made.
“We are not merging with Anniesland – we are talking to Anniesland about the potential for merger,” Walsh said. “We’re at a really early stage. Merger processes take a long time if you want to do them properly and it’s probably going to take us maybe a year to actually get a document together that we can then take to the cabinet secretary.
“It’s kind of like we’re going on a first date, we’re not quite at the forced marriage yet.”
Fears have been raised by the college sector that further education institutions would be hit hard by plans for a cut of £74m over the next three years. Scotland’s Colleges, which represents principals, estimated as many as 20,000 college places could be lost as a result of steep budget cuts.
“I think if you look at the level of budget cuts that we’ve got, it’s pretty well inevitable that we will have to change how we deliver for students. It’s about how we can best use the resources we’ve got to deliver for as many students as possible, and that’s a huge challenge,” Walsh said.
“There isn’t one bit of our sector that’s secure. There’s a lot of discussion and it’s not just Cardonald and Anniesland who are talking, there’s a federation of Glasgow’s community colleges, so there are six of us.”
Cardonald College, Glasgow, on the southside of the city, has a student body of 12,000 each year. Anniesland College, in the city’s west end, teaches 8,000 students.
After telling the Education and Culture Committee in October that the Scottish government should “force the pace” on college mergers, Scottish Education Secretary Mike Russell told The Cardonald Courier: “We have no plans to force any institution to merge. This is a decision best made by institutions themselves,” he said.
“The fact is, however, that mergers often make a great deal of educational and financial sense and many colleges realise that.
“City of Glasgow College was created by a three college merger and has reported a saving of £4m in the first year alone. HMIE has reported no detrimental impact upon learners. Recently Jewel and Esk College and Stevenson College have taken the view that merging will deliver significant benefits to learners of Edinburgh. I expect that others will follow suit.”
Responding to concerns that mergers could limit access to further education for more rural areas the education secretary said: “Nor is there any reason to conclude that mergers will limit local access. In fact previous mergers have led to significantly improved facilities. City of Glasgow College, recently created after the merger of three separate colleges, is planning a brand-new £200m campus.”
“This government has always been strongly committed to colleges. By the end of the spending review period we will have invested £4.7bn in the sector since 2007. That’s a massive investment – almost 40% more than the combined investment in the last eight years.
“Generally, Scotland’s colleges have served us well, but the sector is in agreement with us that reform is overdue and necessary. The college sector has remained virtually unchanged since the early 90s. Over time, this has led to wasteful duplication and unnecessary competition. That can no longer remain the case.”
“Hard to prove”
However, Susan Walsh said it would be hard to prove that the sector in general was wasteful.
“I think that would be a very difficult argument to actually produce evidence for. I am sure there are some institutions that are much better run than others, but you could say that about any part of the public sector,” she said.
“I think that the cabinet secretary has made clear that he thinks there has to be change in the sector, and I think it’s up to colleges to shape that change.”
Cardonald College, Glasgow student president Stefani Millar expressed concerns to The Cardonald Courier that the 13.5% cut in college funding over the next three years – while universities receive a cash boost of £75m – will inevitably result in the loss of college places, and said student education should be at the heart of every decision.
“A merger can be done well if the time is taken to go over every detail. The fear I have is that if this merger passes the talk stage students won’t be at the heart of it,” Millar said. “I hope that everything possible will be done to protect the education of every student, both at Cardonald and Anniesland.”
Education secretary Mike Russell said: “Stefani Millar states that she wants every student to have a chance to learn. That is exactly the view of the Scottish government. We have guaranteed ‘Opportunities for All’ – every young person in this country who wants a place in education or training will have one. This guarantee, a first for a Scottish administration, is crystal clear and it will be honoured.”
The Scottish government has guaranteed a place in education or training to any young person between the ages of 16 and 19, but the guarantee is not extended to mature learners.