Merger in 1998 lead to very turbulent times after many decades of success for Harrogate College

Debra Forsythe-Conroy, former principal of Harrogate College and MP Andrew Jones.
Debra Forsythe-Conroy, former principal of Harrogate College and MP Andrew Jones.

Despite the best efforts of everyone at Harrogate College, its story in recent years has sometimes seemed like watching a ship struggle quietly against the waves in slow motion.

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After decades of success, its bumpy ride began in August, 1998 when it merged with Leeds Metropolitan University and was re-classified as a university.

That new era for Harrogate College lasted barely ten years before control was then transferred to Hull College in 2008.

This was not strictly a merger, since Leeds Metropolitan University still had links with Harrogate College through a body known as the Regional University Network.

As recently as 2016 good times seemed round the corner when Harrogate College received major investment co-funded by the North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise.

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Partnership (LEP) and Hull College Group. in the shape of a new £6 million technology centre as part of a growing focus on employability and practical skills

But the last 12 months have seen events pick up pace with some people claiming the situation was turning into one of turmoil for staff and students alike.

In 2017 a Further Education Commissioner report revealed The Hull College Group had a £10 million deficit.

In February 2018 The Hull College Group had to allay fears that Harrogate College was to close and its following speculation over its future.

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At that point, the group had just completed consultation on potential job cuts as part of a five-year recovery plan called Fresh Start.

The latest restructuring will see Harrogate College remaining with the group through Fresh Start, before possible separation from the group in a move called “disaggregation”, providing terms and conditions are fully met, that is.

The Hull College Group maintains that, despite speculation by some local councillors, staff union and the parents of students, this does not mean Harrogate College will actually be sold.

A spokesperson said: “The group have considered that Harrogate disaggregate from the group in the future.

“As we have fully communicated to all staff in the group, disaggregation is very different to being sold.

“The group concluded that any future proposed merger of Harrogate College and another partner organisation would be beneficial to learners and enable course provision in Harrogate to“increase and respond to economic opportunities” in North Yorkshire.”

In March this year, Harrogate College’s principal Debra Forsythe-Conroy retired.

In May this year after concerns were raised by some Harrogate parents, The Hull College Group said that no cuts would be made to the curriculum in Harrogate.

The same month saw the start of strike action across campuses of the Hull College Group by members of the University and College Union (UCU) to challenge what they said was potential job cuts at Harrogate College and elsewhere.

But the latest roundof strike action was suspended last week following positive talks between the college management and UCU over planned job cuts.

The two sides issued a joint statement commiting to continued joint working with a view to avoiding any compulsory redundancies as part of the restructure.