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UCU has 'serious doubts' on long-distance college merger

3 October 2006 | last updated: 15 December 2015

UCU has expressed 'serious doubts' about a proposed merger of three colleges that are located hundreds of miles apart.

The union has learnt that later this month, governors at Newcastle College will consider a proposal to merge with Skelmersdale and Ormskirk College in Lancashire, and Keighley College in Yorkshire.

Union representatives have been told that Newcastle would 'retain the independence of the two colleges within an overall college framework'.

However, as Skelmersdale and Ormskirk College is a 320-mile round trip from Newcastle, and Keighley is a 212-mile return drive, the union has questioned how such a merger could retain the colleges' local identities and be in the best interests of the communities that they serve.

Both smaller colleges have experienced difficulties in recent years. Skelmersdale and Ormskirk College has been badly affected by the government's new funding priorities for FE as it is based in a very deprived community and so is dependent to a great extent on part-time adult learners.

Keighley College has also had problems - it lost many full-time lecturing posts in 2005, largely as a result of a £1m shortfall caused by financial mismanagement. In March, inspectors rated the college's management as inadequate.

The union has highlighted that Newcastle College's recent history of lamentable industrial relations could compound difficulties for staff at the two smaller institutions.

Barry Lovejoy, national head of further education at UCU, said: 'We are not against mergers per se but have serious doubts about these proposals - partly because of the huge distances involved and partly because of Newcastle College's very sorry recent record on industrial relations.

'We question how these colleges could keep their local identity and community involvement in a merger with a college so far away. We think it would be much more appropriate for nearby colleges to join forces with them.

'Geography aside, Newcastle College has introduced unfeasibly long teaching hours which we think will have a long term detrimental effect on students, and has also refused to fully implement a national pay deal. Those actions raised such anger amongst our members they walked out seven times in six months.

'The last thing either Skelmersdale or Keighley College need at the moment is an uncertain industrial relations climate which will further lower staff morale and so damage the quality of teaching and learning.'

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