Mike Hopkins, Principal of South and City College Birmingham, comments on the role of college mergers and keeping the students’ best interests at heart…
Mergers and acquisitions previously carried a stigma in higher education, but the sector is seeing more than ever before.
College mergers offer relief for a struggling establishment and provide a strong cultural change. Simply put, they offer an avenue for those seeking a strategy to turnaround a college if they are willing to put in the work and commitment.
Why are college mergers on the rise?
When merging with another, similarly-sized institution that operates in the same locality, both colleges can benefit from estates rationalisation.
This means an institution can combine the best departments and if done right, be left with a leaner operation that doesn’t need to build new facilities, use the same pool of students and become more financially efficient.
During my 11-year post, I have led two college mergers – the first between the former South Birmingham College and City College Birmingham, and most recently with Bournville College.
For our second merger, we knew exactly what was needed to be done and the processes involved, so we were able to do things more rapidly. All preparation for the merger was done in-house and planned to the last detail.
Bournville was previously a failing college, however, just 15 months after the merger, both South & City and Bournville were awarded a Grade 2 Ofsted inspection result, achieving a “Good” status across all areas.
Are college mergers the future for education?
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong college merger model. We can provide evidence from our latest inspection report that we are here to provide for students from many different backgrounds. We believe that if we get the student bit right, everything else follows.
However, a merger may not be the best strategy for every institution. My suggestion for any college considering a merger is: make sure you fully understand what you are undertaking.
Consider the drivers for your merger, carefully observe the financial state of the college you intend to partner with and think about the considerable amount of time and commitment that you need to invest; you will be involved in a lot more than just the day-to-day running of the institution.
A merger needs to be done with the student’s best interests coming first.