Call for college and council not to compete in Northumberland

The Northumberland College campus in Ashington
The Northumberland College campus in Ashington

Northumberland College is looking to move towards further accreditation so that it is able to offer its own degrees.

The county’s only further education college, which has campuses in Ashington, Kirkley Hall, Berwick, Newcastle, Hexham and Blyth, does already offer degrees, but the awarding bodies are always established universities.

This was just one aspect mentioned as Jen Bell, assistant principal of student services at the college, spoke to last Thursday’s (November 8) meeting of Northumberland County Council’s family and children’s services committee.

It comes at a key point of transition for the college as it works towards a merger with its counterpart in Sunderland, which was announced in September and would take effect in March next year.

Questions were asked about how Northumberland College works with partners, including schools and the council’s adult learning service, on what courses are on offer.

Ms Bell said: “We always scrutinise the curriculum we offer, it should really be on demand.

“We always have a look at the students which apply and what they want to study, but that always has to link with what funding we are getting.

“The merger is moving on well at the moment and one of those activities is to scrutinise the curriculum, is it value for money, is there demand? We continue to check it’s fundable, there’s demand and the people of Northumberland want it.

“One thing that’s always been there is the desire of the people in the North East to learn and study and progress in their careers.”

The council’s director of education, Dean Jackson, called for a meeting with the merged college next year so as to ‘not compete and to spread our limited resources more widely’.

Ms Bell had previously mentioned that ‘there’s always room for overlap’ to offer a choice to the people of Northumberland, but Mr Jackson said: “It’s difficult enough to compete with giants like Newcastle College without competing with each other.”

Ms Bell added: “It would be naïve for any of us not to want to speak about those issues.”

Coun Mark Swinburn asked whether there was a focus on what people need to study rather than what they want to study. He was told that the college’s business development team do exactly this, by going out to companies and finding out what jobs are needed and where there are shortages.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service