A consultation into a proposed merger between Chichester College and Central Sussex College has been launched.
The colleges have been in talks about the possibility of a merger since the end of November, and the consultation will run from today (March 23) until April 24.
The proposal is for the formation of a new college group which will include Chichester College, Brinsbury (land-based campus), Central Sussex College Crawley, Horsham Training Centre, First Steps Childcare Group, Anglia Examinations and International Operations.
The idea of a merger was born of the government's Area-based Review of further education and sixth-form colleges in Sussex, which was published in November.
The review recommended Chichester remain as a stand-alone college "at this point" but said it should "explore the potential for partnership" with another college or colleges.
Central Sussex was deemed to be not sustainable in the long-term as a stand-alone college, due to the £25m debt it inherited following the decision to mortgage its Haywards Heath campus in 2008.
A spokesman for the colleges said a merger was being explored that would secure a financial settlement of that debt from the government as well as the sale of the Haywards Heath campus.
It is hoped the merger will be complete by August 1.
Kieran Stigant, chairman of the proposed merger, said: “I am thrilled by the opportunity to help shape the merged college.
"It will create the largest college group in Sussex with increased learning opportunities for around 25,000 students every year and meet the skills needs of our dynamic regional economy.”
The proposal has the support of the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership and West Sussex County Council.
The presidents of Central Sussex College and Chichester College Student Unions said: “We believe the proposed merger offers an exciting opportunity to current and future students and the community.
"Being part of a larger college group will provide us with greater prospects for future employment and curriculum development.”
Speaking in a joint statement while the merger was being explored, Sarah Wright, of Central Sussex, and Shelagh Legrave, of Chichester, said: "We believe that a merger between our colleges will create opportunities around financial sustainability and ensure a diverse and employer led curriculum to meet local business and community needs.
“We remain committed to ensuring quality teaching and learning and believe that collaboration provides the opportunity to grow income, share costs and work in broader geographical areas.”
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