Consultation on future of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft Colleges

A consultation has been launched into how Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft Colleges could share staff and even merge under the auspices of one body.

Yesterday staff at both colleges were asked to take part in a collaboration consultation which is looking at the future of both sites in the light of financial challenges.

The corporations of the Norfolk and Suffolk colleges have drawn up draft collaboration models which look at the pros and cons of six ways the colleges could operate.

The models start with a 'stand-alone' version in which there are no changes the current system to finish with a 'merger' model which proposes the idea of Yarmouth and Lowestoft campuses coming under the auspices of a new college corporation.

Stages in between the stand-alone and merger models include a memorandum of agreement of curriculum delivery, a joint venture company overseeing both colleges and a 'hard federation' of a shared management team.

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Each option has an advantage and disadvantage column and all the options will see both towns keep a college site in some form.

For the merger option the pro column says it will create a single future strategic direction, can lead to reduced management costs and will increase expertise within the organisation.

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Disadvantages include reducing local input into governance, redundancy costs and time to agree merger and loss of staff loyalty.

By sticking to the stand-alone model the benefits to both colleges would be maintaining strong links within their communities, being perceived as local, single college sites being easy to manage and staff loyalty.

The cons include duplication of resources and high-cost management posts and insufficient capacity to develop innovative approaches to quality improvement.

Yesterday's consultation document says there are five main considerations in the consultation – improving standards, improving employer/business focus, economies of scale through shared support services, improving progression routes and improving decision making for meet need across the Yarmouth and Lowestoft communities.

The document also has a list of policies that are 'non-negotiable' and which were set at a meeting of college bosses on Wednesday.

They include ideally retaining both colleges's names, curriculum should be available in both towns, any collaboration being a genuine partnership and delivering a 'quality learning experience meeting the needs and interests of the communities served by the two colleges'.

The consultation document, which was sent out on behalf of Bruce Sturrock and Richard Perkins, chairmen of Yarmouth and Lowestoft College Corporations respectively, says: 'It was overwhelmingly agreed that any proposals must prioritise, as their rationale, the improvement of standards to ensure teaching, learning and assessment are fit for purpose and that proposals must meet the needs of the local communities and businesses.

'It was also recognised that this had to be done in the context of the financial challenges of the current economic environment and of the restrictions in funding of further education.

'It was further recognised that it was preferable for the colleges to make their own choices rather than have to be 'forced' into alternatives.'

Staff have until next Tuesday to respond to the consultation and the results will then be discussed by both corporations in the middle of next month.

Any proposed changes to the roles of the colleges, whose principals are Penny Wycherley and Simon Summers, will then be subject to a full and detailed consultation.

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