MALVERN Hills College is to be closed as part of a shake-up by its operator WCG.
The move follows an intensive 18-month review and will also see Evesham College consolidated and Pershore College expanded.
WCG said the action was being taken to ‘balance educational objectives and financial stability of the three colleges it operates in the county’.
The review process was sped up due to the financial impact of Covid-19.
Malvern Hills College will be temporarily reopened in March 2021, subject to Coronavirus restrictions, to enable students to complete their studies which were suspended in March during the first lockdown.
The College was the only one in the Group not to re-open in September as the courses were not Government funded and the average age of the students meant they were more ‘at risk’ from the virus.
The small number of younger, Government-funded students have been studying at Evesham College since September.
It is also hoped it will give time to support the staff, who may move to other WCG sites, and to explore all the options for the sale of the College’s Malvern Hills site.
It could enable any local interest groups to purchase the building or relocate the arts and crafts provision within the area.
Malvern Hills College has around 900 adult learners on part-time arts and craft courses.
Full-time vocational courses, including hair and barbering, have already been successfully transferred to Evesham College in response to Covid-19, with WCG providing a direct bus service which is set to continue.
Malvern Hills College will permanently close in August 2021 and the site will be sold.
WCG will, however, maintain a presence in the town by retaining its digital and cyber technology training facility at Malvern Hills Science Park.
The college also hopes to support the council’s plans for the Technology Park.
Both the leader of Malvern Hills District Council Coun Sarah Rouse and West Worcestershire MP Harriett Baldwin expressed their sadness at the news.
Coun Rouse said: “This news is hugely disappointing for the town and all the students involved.
“The college is in a difficult position due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and I understand tough decisions need to be taken.
“We will be seeking urgent talks with the college about their future intentions for the site and to explore potential options with them, including maintaining some form of education and training provision.
“We will also be seeking further assurances over their commitment to Malvern Hills Science Park.”
Ms Baldwin said she was shocked WCG had taken the decision when training young people was more important than ever.
“I am saddened for those people taking courses like hair dressing or beauty therapy who are faced with a long diversion to Evesham to continue their studies.
“They also have done it without even a consultation or the courtesy of sharing their thinking with me.
“In fact, when the group took over the Malvern site they promised they would invest.
“Last week’s Spending Review delivered a £375million investment in skills.
“This feels like a very short-term decision, bearing in mind our national need to help young people to get the skills they need to compete in a difficult job market.
“The college group has rightly looked to expand its digital skills teaching capability and we should be doing more teaching locally, not less.
“I’ve asked for an urgent conversation with principal Angela Joyce to understand her thinking and to reassure me that this is not just an asset-stripping exercise.”
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.