College campus saved after merger collapses

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THE Kirkley Hall campus at Northumberland College has been saved after merger plans collapsed.

At a meeting of its Corporation on Tuesday, the board agreed to rescind the decision it made in July to merge with NCG, the parent group of Newcastle College.

Members believed the original proposal had materially changed and that a partnership with NCG no longer represented the best solution for students, staff, stakeholders and the local community.

The national not-for-profit colleges and training company has said it is disappointed with the decision, as Northumberland College will miss out on an investment of £25million over the next four years.

If the merger went ahead, plans were in place to update the Ashington site and build a new campus at Cramlington.

Kirkley Hall was set to be sold off as NCG claimed it was not commercially viable to spend the ‘millions of pounds’ required to provide modern, fit-for-purpose agricultural facilities.

It was looking to create teaching facilities on a real working farm, which it says would have helped to increase the number of full-time land-based students.

But there was opposition to the move from many members of staff and Northumberland residents.

A public consultation earlier in the year on the plans saw 63 per cent of those expressing an opinion opposing the merger.

Principal of Northumberland College Chris Todd said: “I firmly believe that the Corporation has the interests of learners and the local community at heart.

“This decision will allow the college to move forward positively, creating a solution that will better meet the needs of students, staff, stakeholders and the local community.

“Students, staff and stakeholders did not want this merger to happen. The Corporation has listened to these concerns and made the right choice in the interests of Northumberland.

“Northumberland College has a strong business plan going forward and we have demonstrated substantial improvement over the last 12 months.

“This upward trend will continue and I fully expect us to emerge from this process fighting fit and ready for the challenges that the future will undoubtedly bring.”

Mr Todd added: “We are no longer in a desperate situation. The college is stronger than ever, both financially, but also in terms of the quality of its provision.”

He also said that the board will now consider other alternative options to secure the future of the college, which will be focused on placing the staff and students at the heart of everything it does.

Jackie Fisher, Chief Executive of NCG, said: “We are disappointed that Northumberland College has rejected our merger proposal.

“We remain committed to supporting learners in the North East and we are considering an alternative strategy to give learners in the county the opportunity to gain new skills in an up-to-date, clean, pleasant and safe environment.”

Last month, the University and College Union (UCU) raised concerns about the proposals. It claimed that NCG was not giving enough thought about the impact of its plans on the needs of the region and questioned the company’s commitment to land-based education in the region.

In response to the merger collapse, UCU regional official Jon Bryan said: “I am pleased that Northumberland College’s board of governors has rejected the merger.

“NCG’s behaviour throughout the process has been open to question and our members at Northumberland are feeling relieved.”