Tower Hamlets College in merger talks with Hackney and Redbridge

Tower Hamlets' Poplar campus

Tower Hamlets' Poplar campus - Credit: Archant

Three major colleges of further education involving up to 20,000 students may be planning to merge in east London in the face of tough government cuts in their budgets. Tower Hamlets, Hackney Community and Redbridge colleges have today issued two separate consultations setting out proposals which could lead to eventual amalgamation.

Tower Hamlets College principal Gerry McDonald

Tower Hamlets College principal Gerry McDonald - Credit: Archant

It follows a summer of protests by colleges across London including two mass lobbies of Parliament over spending cuts.

The two Tower Hamlets campuses in Poplar and Stepney have been at the front-line of the campaign to halt the cuts, with principal Gerry McDonald addressing MPs at Westminster last month and in July.

He has been in talks with Hackney and Redbridge college chiefs since the summer on the idea of merging or at least sharing resources in a ‘federation’ network.

“Government policy now clearly supports creation of larger institutions that are financially viable and able to meet the country’s skill needs,” Mr McDonald said.

Tower Hamlets College principal Gerry McDonald

Tower Hamlets College principal Gerry McDonald - Credit: Archant

“It’s our view that this policy is best articulated locally through a new vision for further education in east London.”

Studies were disrupted four weeks ago at Poplar and Stepney when lecturers and students travelled to Westminster to protest against the cuts. Tower Hamlets had already been hit by £1.2 million cuts when more government purse-tightening followed “out of the blue” in July.

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Mr McDonald said at the time: “The government is being short-sighted not investing in young people and their future.”

Funding courses for foreign language speakers was stopped in July, resulting in lecturers being made redundant. The courses are “not guaranteed to run” after Christmas.

Hackney Community students filming for media course at Shoreditch campus 2014

Hackney Community students filming for media course at Shoreditch campus 2014 - Credit: Archant

The first joint consultation by Tower Hamlets involves Hackney Community’s campus at Shoreditch to “secure educational and career opportunities for people in east London for years to come”.

It outlines options for closer collaboration which could also lead to merging, working in a federation or a formal partnership.

Both colleges, with 15,000 students between them, are now seeking responses to the proposals from students, schools, employers, businesses, staff and government funding agencies.

Hackney’s Chair of Governors Tom Mautner said: “This potential collaboration can build on the strengths of the two colleges to help meet the economic success and cohesion of our area.”

Both share similar geographical locations in adjoining east London boroughs on the ‘City Fringe’ and have complementary curriculums working in key industries such as financial services, IT, digital and creative media.

They also work with City and Canary Wharf businesses, the Olympic Park and Old Street’s ‘Tech City’.

The second consultation by Tower Hamlets involves Redbridge College, much further east, with 10,000 students between them.

This is also being driven by “financial pressures in further education due to government cuts over the last few years” which the colleges fear puts educational and career opportunities at risk.

Tower Hamlets and Redbridge are both members of the East London College Alliance, created in April to share resources in the wake of the cuts. Their mergers, if agreed by their boards, would be completed formally at the end of the academic year next August.

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