Merger plans for Oaklands college?

OUTGOING principal Mark Dawe has admitted that Oaklands might have to look at merging with another college in Herts if higher education is badly hit by coalition spending cuts.

And he has also confirmed that the college is selling the city campus in St Peter’s Road, St Albans, – where a substantial part has already been developed as housing – and will be consolidating future developments of Oaklands at the Smallford site in Hatfield Road and Welwyn Garden City.

Mr Dawe, who is leaving to become head of an examination board, was at the helm last summer when the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) pulled the plug on funding for numerous higher education college projects across the country.

It effectively scuppered the college’s multi-million-pound hub and spoke scheme which would have centred on the Smallford campus and the college governors have been looking at other ways to fund much-needed improvements to its infrastructure and buildings.

Mr Dawe said that four years ago the college started to move its provision around its campuses, gradually switching much of it away from city campus and providing a bus service between campuses.

The governors were about to submit a planning application for a new sports hall and teaching block at the Smallford campus and it would not be until that was completed, which would be a minimum of two years, that the city campus would finally close.

He went on: “The city campus has bids in at the moment and the governors will make a decision in the next month or two. The only buildings left there are the big tower block which is predominantly for art and some A-levels.”

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Mr Dawe confirmed that the governors had been looking at options for the future in light of the LSC cut and among those was the possibility of collaborating or merging with another college in Herts.

He went on: “We could face big cuts in the government’s spending review and there are rumours of a 40 per cent cut in adult education with some threats in the 16 to 18 age group as well. It is right and proper that the governors are looking at ways of going forward.

“There is a review going on but there is no commitment to a merger and it would only happen if it benefits learners in this area.”

Mr Dawe also pointed out that despite the loss of the capital funding for the hub and spoke scheme, the college was in a strong position financially and in terms of education quality.

He added: “There is no financial or quality imperative but given what is coming our way, we should be looking at what the implications are.”

n Zoe Hancock, currently deputy principal of Oaklands, has been appointed interim principal from next month.

Previously director of planning and projects at the British Museum where she was involved in many successful projects, she left Merton College, Oxford, with a first class honours degree in modern history and qualified as a chartered accountant at Pricewaterhouse Coopers.