Education: The tale of two tie-ups

Joining forces can be very good, but it is not without snags
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The Independent Online
LONDON: One of the most significant mergers of the 1980s was between two colleges of London University - Bedford in Regent's Park and Royal Holloway in Egham, Surrey. It involved Bedford, the more prestigious of the two, moving 25 miles to Egham, losing its gorgeous site and buildings in central London and eventually losing its name. Royal Holloway gained hugely. At first, the merged institution was called Royal Holloway and Bedford New College - a horrible mouthful of a name. Eventually the last four words were dropped.

The merged institution was the recipient of huge investment and a big building programme. Behind the merger was the harsh financial climate of 1981 when it became clear that smallish colleges would not have a bright future, particularly in science.

For the staff, it was a traumatic event. Bedford lost its identity and the staff had to move to Egham; Royal Holloway felt invaded by Londoners. But amalgamation was the only way to survive, according to the experts. Since then, Royal Holloway has gone from strength to strength. From having had a weak position in the research league tables, it is now just in the top quartile.

"That says a lot about what you can do if you are sufficiently visionary," says John Lauwerys, former registrar at Royal Holloway, now secretary and registrar at Southampton University.

LEEDS: Behind last year's merger between Leeds Metropolitan University and Harrogate College of Further Education lay financial and political considerations. The college had had some financial problems. Going in with Leeds secured its future. Leeds benefited by growing bigger, becoming a more comprehensive tertiary institution and expanding its geographical reach. The trickiest part was the changing position of the further education funding council - which has a statutory duty to make sure that further education is maintained - and the ambivalence of government to a merger between further and higher education.

Frank Griffiths, deputy vice-chancellor of Leeds Met says: "It was not in any sense at all plain sailing."

The most difficult thing for the university was reassuring the authorities that it was not going to take part in an asset-stripping exercise.

"We were intending to maintain and grow the further education provision," says Mr Griffiths. "We saw the Harrogate campus as contributing to economic development."

Leeds Met is now two-thirds of the way through a consultation exercise about developing the Harrogate campus. It has submitted a proposal to the Higher Education Funding Council for a significant increase in courses and students at Harrogate.

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