A ‘SAVE Our Students Task Force’ has been launched by the district council’s deputy leader in a bid to save Malvern Hills College.
Coun Tom Wells, also the council’s Portfolio Holder for Community Services, has brought together a group of ten local people with extensive practice-based FE teaching and management, experience with business and local government.
Among them are Gini McKay, former Vice Principal of Evesham and Malvern Hills College and later South Worcestershire College until she retired in 2015, Christopher Green, former Trustee and Chairman of Malvern Hills College, and Roger Britton, Chair of Community First, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.
Others include former Malvern Hills College lecturer Fergus McKay, former local nurse and midwife Maddy Pennock who retrained at the college and a number of councillors from the district, town and county councils.
Making up the councillors are Coun Julie Wood, Coun John Raine, Coun Clive Hooper, Coun Beverley Nielsen and Coun Cynthia Palmer.
Coun Wells said: “This has been a difficult enough year for Malvernians without the sudden unwelcome news that our College is going to close.
“But I know that we are a resourceful lot and I’m delighted to have put together a group of people with the appropriate qualifications and experience to not only save the college, but also plan for a more sustainable future.
“This could provide not only vocational and education courses for all age groups, but also be a community hub with a focus on the performing arts.
“Everyone has been struck by the tragedy facing Malvern students already through the Covid months and which would be greatly exacerbated should Malvern Hills College close.
“This has long been a feature of the exceptional educational provision that Malvern is renowned for.
“I am pleased to announce that Coun Beverley Nielsen will chair the SOS Task force given her experience in saving the Outdoor Education Centre from closure in 2012, alongside her educational and business experience.”
Coun Nielsen, as newly appointed Chair of the SOS Task Force, stated: “It’s a big responsibility as we confront the potential closure of our much loved Malvern Hills College and the gap this could leave in our learning landscape.
“Whilst the immediate threat is clear, there is also the chance to open up a new route into the future.
“I’d like us to explore the option of a learning hub, offering a wider range of hybrid learning opportunities for people leading directly into areas of growth, for example in entrepreneurship including incubation facilities, in IT and software development, Cloud computing and cyber security.
“These and others are the sorts of areas that play to our cultural and technological strengths and we need to look at providing the skills that support our businesses as we grow out of Covid.
“We have a really experienced group of people who have come together to give their time applying it to develop a workable solution.
“We need to draw on this, develop our recommendations and pull together an action plan so we can report back to our colleagues with a practical means of saving the day. That is what we intend to do over the next few weeks and I will be proud to play my part.”
MP calls for Ministerial intervention
WEST WORCESTERSHIRE MP Harriett Baldwin has held a series of meetings with senior Government Ministers following the shock decision to close Malvern Hills College.
Ms Baldwin spoke to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on Wednesday to share her concerns and also had further discussions with Skills Minister Gillian Keegan.
The MP has also had a meeting with the Further Education Commissioner Richard Atkins and has urged him to look into the actions of the Warwickshire College Group’s and investigate the process for reaching the decision to put the college up for sale.
Ms Baldwin said: “It is clear that the actions taken by the Warwickshire College Group are well beyond what is considered acceptable and the Commissioner agreed that he was concerned and shocked by the decision.
“It is usual for a consultation process to be carried out on different options and the Commissioner was alarmed at the speed at which this decision has been taken, without any proper engagement with the local community.
“My principal concern is that without the college and the decision by Dyson Perrins to withdraw its sixth form teaching, there will now be a significant reduction in local post-16 training and education provision.
“I’m planning a discussion with the group’s chief executive, Angela Joyce, to raise my concerns, and I’ve asked the Commissioner to request that the Minister directly intervenes although Further Education colleges are autonomous.
“This is a time when we should be increasing teaching provision to help young people into work, and I am saddened at the way this out-of-town college group has broken its promises to the detriment of Malvern people.”
What the college’s operators said
WCG, which runs Malvern Hills College, in a statement earlier this week said the action was being taken to ‘balance educational objectives and financial stability of the three colleges it operates in the county’.
Angela Joyce, CEO of WCG, said: “We have worked hard to maintain the three colleges in Worcestershire, all of which had quality or financial issues when they merged into the group, and no major change is entered into without assessing all the consequences.
“Given the widely-known pressures in the FE sector, linked to a decade of funding cuts, we have had to continually drive improvements and like almost all organisations and businesses, Covid-19 has impacted WCG significantly.”
Whilst Malvern Hills College has been a community learning facility for decades, it has not been financially viable for a number of years due to reduced adult education funding and a diminishing customer base.
Ms Joyce said: “The type of education offered at Malvern Hills College is sadly no longer viable for WCG as Malvern Hills College has been financially supported by the rest of the group since.
“We recognise the important role the college plays in supporting part of the community and we hope we can find a way for the courses to continue for local people to attend.”
She added WCG was committed to maintaining a presence in Malvern through its facility at Malvern Hills Science Park and intended to move forward with training and education aimed at providing skills for 21st century employment in the region, such as digital and cyber security and the new T Levels.