Continued funding cuts, alongside the new high quality post-16 offer, have put mergers firmly on the agenda. The government, in its review of post-16 education and training institutions, stated we need “fewer, often larger, more resilient and efficient providers” to enable specialisation and centres of expertise.
In its simplest form, a merger is where one or more institutions cease to exist as a legal entity when incorporated into a new or existing institution. There are many examples of merged institutions in the sector including those between further education (FE) colleges, higher education institutions (HEIs) and some FE/HE mergers.
What you can do
Make informed decisions
If your institution is considering a merger, making informed decisions is essential. Where voluntary, the decision whether to merge or not will depend on various factors including the:
- Reasons, or drivers behind it
- Type of merger envisaged
- Alternatives available
- Key issues such as technology and legal implications.
A relevant technology implication, for example, will be the provision of, and cost associated with a Janet network connection.
In February 2016, the Association of Colleges published a guide for governors and senior leaders on new structures, including advice on gathering supporting evidence necessary to inform decision-making, and a relevant merger case study.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) also produced a document describing lessons learned from collaborations, alliances and mergers alongside guidance for HEIs.
Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses
There may also be steps you must take. For example, any college considering significant structural change must undertake a college structure and prospects appraisal to evaluate strengths, weaknesses and local circumstances and determine the model that will best allow it to deliver its mission.
Consider the drivers for your merger
Being able to deliver high quality outputs in a cost-effective way is one reason to merge but there may be other drivers in terms of government policy, service delivery, improvement, reputation, competition or indeed survival.
Look at alternatives
Where flexibility, low risk and low costs are imperative, you should consider alternatives to mergers. For example, sharing services can also save costs, increase efficiency and share knowledge. Other options include converging services, creating alliances, joining up networks or subcontracting services externally.
Understand and address key issues
Knowing what the issues are and understanding their implications early is essential. Success is not guaranteed and each merger is unique. However here are our tips to help you move forward:
- Rigorously analyse your options, benefits and manage risks
- Consider impact and ensure a complementary vision and culture
- Manage change effectively with strong, high quality, people-focused leadership
- Build an effective team to manage the project
- Consider technology implications and select the right technologies
- Satisfy your legal obligations, carry out due diligence and be aware of competition issues
- Manage strategic activity without compromising delivery
- Update policies and agreements to reflect change
- Ensure effective engagement and communication
- Involve and consult with stakeholders and the community
- Be realistic about outcomes, likely costs and savings, and time needed
- Monitor and evaluate benefits and measures of success.
Use our business intelligence guide to help you gather, present and use evidence to plan for the future. Our process improvement guide can also offer step-by-step guidance to improving your business processes.
Read our project management guide to help you plan and manage projects such as institutional change.