Tower Hamlets College has launched exploratory talks with other east London colleges about a possible merger as cuts in the education budget begin to bite.

Principal Gerry McDonald is looking at link-ups with Hackney College , Redbridge College or both in a climate that is favouring larger institutions with a stronger financial base.

Mr McDonald said the discussions, which could affect tens of thousands of students, are “positive” and “upbeat”.

He has launched two consultation papers calling for views from a range of stakeholders. The first considers a proposed merger with Redbridge College, a fellow member of the East London College Alliance.

It has two sites in Chadwell Heath and Ilford Town Centre and caters for 1,400 students between the ages of 16-18 studying vocational courses.

The second set of negotiations are a broader discussion about whether the education provider should form a federation with Hackney College, or go one step further and merge completely.

Mr McDonald said: “There’s a whole range of things that might happen – we could decide to stay a we are, merge with one college, or all three could merge. If we all intended to merge, we would have a combined income of £60million – Tower Hamlets currently has an income of £20million.

“Our income is down – we have managed to keep our heads above water and we are still in pretty good shape. But it’s not about doing it because we have to, it’s because we think it is the right thing. We want to see it as a positive.

“When you’ve got reduced funds you’ve got to find clever ways of doing things.”

The potential changes follow the Government’s decision to introduce a series of area reviews aimed at rationalising, or perhaps slimming down, the Further Education sector.

Mr McDonald said he wanted to ensure the outcome would boost opportunities for learners across the communities.

“Locally, we are saying most students won’t notice a difference at all and, where they do, there will be benefits,” he said.

He used the example of construction which provided opportunities with Canary Wharf on the doorstep of its Poplar campus. Tower Hamlets College only had a small provision of vocational construction courses while Hackney has a lot more.

“For example, courses that might not be available – we have got a small construction provision, and obviously construction is a big thing in Canary Wharf," he said.

“We can start to put stuff together that make sense.”

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