Welsh Assembly split over college merger

Last minute rethink over Welsh College of Horticulture merger.

Government pressure for the Welsh College of Horticulture (WCH) to merge with an institution better known for producing bricklayers and aircraft workers is being rethought at the last moment. The environment committee of the Welsh Assembly has protested at education minister Jane Davidson backing the merger of the college at Northop with the much- larger nearby Deeside College to save money. Governors of WCH, which occupies 91ha of rural land in north-east Wales overlooking the Dee estuary, are fighting to avoid what they regard as a takeover. Instead, WCH wants a merger with the North East Wales Institute of Higher Education (NEWI) at Wrexham, which aims eventually to become a university. But to some supporters of WCH, even that merger looks odd. Welsh Assembly member and farmer Brynle Williams believes the college’s future lies with land-based education. Williams said: “It should press for a link with Bangor university, which possesses an important land sector, as well as Treborth Botanic Garden.” Williams said links should also be examined with Coleg Llysfasi, a farming college based in nearby Denbighshire. WCH has of its own volition recently been building its land-based links in Wales. It has launched a horticulture education and training partnership, running courses at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, based at Middleton, and with Carmarthenshire college Coleg Sir Gar, near Llandeilo. Williams said: “If the Welsh College merges with Deeside, within four or five years its work here will no longer exist because it is too specialist. Welsh College principal Dr Mark Simkin argues that a link with NEWI would be far more valuable because it would provide students with a continuation into higher education.” Williams attended WCH as a 16-year-old to gain qualifications for admission to Coleg Llysfasi. A government representative said a Deeside link would be in the better interest of students.

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