Pershore College looks set to receive a capital injection of around £4.5m when it merges as expected on 1 August.
The Learning & Skills Council (LSC) will write off Pershore’s debts and invest in the Worcestershire horticulture college as part of a controversial merger deal with Warwickshire College.
The “Pershore brand” attracted Warwickshire College principal Ioan Morgan to the merger with Pershore: “Pershore is recognised as the best in horticulture. We think our ability to give it sustainability is a huge strength.”
The merger, agreed by Pershore governors in March (HW, 15 March) after lengthy wrangles, goes to education secretary Alan Johnson to ratify this week. Morgan expects him to give the go-ahead to merge by the end of May and hopes for £4.5m from the LSC to spend at Pershore.
Morgan said he understands objections to the LSC’s demands for merger after Pershore ran up debts of £3.3m, but said as civil servants they were bound by red tape. He added: “We were pleased to be asked [to merge] by the LSC.” He said as a nearby land-based college Warwickshire offered “a better bet” than other colleges also in the frame. His governors turned down Pershore’s Holme Lacy site as too far away so LSC paired it with Herefordshire College of Technology.
The HTA met with Morgan last week and director-general David Gwyther said it will support the principal of an industry training centre of excellence for level two and three and “bitesize” courses at Pershore, though Morgan said the land-based industry is difficult to engage “because it is so fragmented”. Gwyther is worried about funding gaps at Pershore but said: “Ourselves and HW have made a difference to Pershore. In January’s consultation document even the Pershore campus was under threat.” He also criticised the LSC’s “appalling performance”.
Morgan said Warwickshire College of Agriculture’s merger with Mid Warwickshire Further Education College in 1996 was “an exemplar of good practice” and that good integration dispelled “a lot of nervousness”.
In 2003 Warwickshire merged with Rugby College. It now employs 1,700, turns over £45m and teaches 30,000 students a year. Pershore teaches 5,000 students and turns over £7m. Warwickshire has spent £9m on its Moreton Morrell campus since the merger.
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