St Albans-based Oaklands College merger plan dropped

MERGER plans that could have seen Oaklands College amalgamate with another further education provider have been scrapped.

The St Albans-based college, which hit its lowest point last year when a promised �60 million to improve its facilities was not forthcoming, had been looking at a possible merger with another college in Herts or North London.

But the corporation of the college, which is consolidating its operations on the main site in Smallford and at Welwyn Garden City campus, has decided that it is strong enough to continue as an autonomous provider.

Interim principal Zoe Hancock said: “Oaklands College provides for over 10,000 full and part-time learners across a wide range of vocational and further education courses.

“With financial challenges facing the whole further education sector, we believed it was prudent to look at all options for the future including a possible merger with another further education provider.

He added: “However, we have come to the decision that Oaklands College is strong enough to remain independent. The college has a sound financial base, strong reputation, educational performance and a team committed to continuing its success in the future.”

Early last year plans for a new �120 million redevelopment scheme with a “hub” at the Smallford campus and “spokes” at the St Albans, Welwyn Garden City and Borehamwood campuses were well underway in a bid to replace shabby facilities which badly needed upgrading.

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But in June 2009 the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) pulled the plug on the �60 million of funding it had promised to provide and after years of planning the college was left to go back to the drawing board, albeit with a �9 million refund from the LSC of the money which had already been spent on the scheme.

Since then the college has confirmed that it is selling the remainder of the St Albans city campus in St Peter’s Road and would be consolidating on the Smallford and Welwyn Garden City campuses.

It is also looking to sell off land at the Sandpit Lane end of the Smallford campus for 300-plus additional houses to be built alongside the 67 new homes to be constructed on the former greenhouse site.

A spokesperson for Oaklands said that the decision not to merge was not based on the revenue from the housing development should it go ahead but was because the college was in a strong financial situation thanks to an increase in the numbers of students year on year. As a result it had the money available to continue enhancing learner development.

Any money from the housing development would be used for capital improvements to the remaining campuses, she said and added: “Although we are not looking to merge we will continue to work closely with other joint services such as Jobcentres.”