Stratford and Warwickshire College merger moves rejected

‘Get your tanks off my lawn’ — Stratford-upon-Avon College chairman tells Warwickshire College counterparts

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Stratford-upon-Avon College.

THE chairman of Stratford-upon-Avon College’s governors, Lord Digby Jones, has told Warwickshire College to “get your tanks off my lawn” in response to suggestions the two colleges should merge.

“I think they got the message,” he told the Herald.

“We have no intention of being part of some monolithic animal over which the people of Stratford have no control.”

Lord Jones, a former government trade minister and director general of the CBI, said that Warwickshire College had made several approaches to Stratford College suggesting a merger and these had all been refused.

Warwickshire had even written to the Further Education Commissioner, Sir David Collins – as recently as last week – proposing a merger.

But Lord Jones said Sir David was happy for Stratford to stay independent.

His comments came after Stratford College issued a statement pointing out that it was currently part of the area review process for Coventry and Warwickshire.

The statement said: “Stratford College’s stated position is to remain an independent general further education college that recognises the value of collaboration with a range of like-minded providers to the benefit of local and regional learners, employers and the wider community.”

The college statement is being seen as a robust response to rumours that it was in financial difficulties following the loss of the international foundation programme contract awarded by Warwick University for the teaching of foreign students.

Initially Stratford College was said to have lost the contract to Warwickshire College, but the university’s website says the programme will revert to the university’s own campus from September 2016.

Lord Jones, however, dismissed suggestions that Stratford College was in financial trouble. He pointed out that a loan of £750,000 from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) was virtually paid off.

The college will be making the final payment of £100,000 on 15th July. Asked how the college had managed to achieve this, Lord Jones said: “We’ve not increased our banking facility.

And we will deliver this or that in a different way. There are fewer people at the top. The college had become quite top-heavy.

“People have left and have not been replaced and we’ve merged two jobs into one and saved taxpayers’ money. We’ve come into the new year with new people at the top and new governors and we’re in a financial position that is sounder than it’s been for a long time.”

Asked if the college principal and chief executive, Nicola Mannock, would be continuing in her role, Lord Jones said: “I’ve got one of the best principals in the country. I’m hardly likely to want her to go. She is very, very good. She’s changed the way this college has been run and all I’ve done is put the ball in after she’s moved it up the pitch.

“A few people have gone and we’ve had to change things. There will be people who don’t approve, but we live in a free world and they’re entitled to that view.”

On the loss of the international foundation programme, Lord Jones said the college was already developing the provision of a service for students from Malaysia, China, the United States and Eastern Europe.

In its statement the college gave a list of priorities that included:

  • Creating efficiencies and improvements through shared operations and services with other providers (including Solihull College)
  • Working collaboratively with local schools
  • Providing solutions to meet the employer-driven focus on target sectors such as childcare, health and social care; sport, leisure, public services, catering and tourism; digital and creative industries; GCSE, A-Level and higher education; construction and skilled trades; and UK and international study programmes.

Warwickshire College would not comment on remarks about mergers because the area review was still under way.