A college boss has admitted the situation is ‘extremely difficult financially’ which has led to merger talks with another college.

The college will also benefit from a £10m Open University scheme so it can expand courses.

Kingston Maurward College Principal Luke Rake spoke after it was announced the land-based agricultural site near Dorchester was looking to merge with Weymouth College, making it the 'biggest strategic change in further education in Dorset since the Second World War.'

Mr Rake said: “The situation at Kingston Maurward is extremely difficult financially, and this has been the catalyst for the recent round of discussions.”

He added: “We're a small college with an expensive and old estate, delivering expensive provision with large capital requirements and 24/7 cover 365 days a year due to the estate and animal requirements.”

Mr Rake explained the college is only one of 12 independent land-based colleges left in England. He said the Covid pandemic did not help matters financially. 

Discussions about a merger generally had been going on for years, the principal revealed.

The college has hit a setback in that it failed to meet audit requirements, which has meant it must pay back several years’ worth of funds to the Department of Further Education, reported to be up to £850,000.

The college has disputed the audit as students have completed their apprenticeships successfully, and witness statements from both employers and the students showed that requirements were met.

Because of this dispute, the college has not paid the money back, and the government has not asked for payment at this time.

Mr Rake said this has not been a factor in the talks for a merger.

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However, the dispute has been part of the reason why the college has been unable to release its accounts for 2021-22.

Mr Rake stressed that not releasing the accounts is a ‘measure of corporate caution rather than anything else’ and maintained the college was ‘not in operational distress.’

The principal said: “We do have sufficient funds at this point in time, but some are restricted in use for capital works rather than operational expenditure.”

The college is in the final stages with the Government over the uses of all funds and its accounts from this period should be signed off around Christmas.

“It’s really just part of that trend rather than anything specific to Kingston Maurward itself,” he added.

* Meanwhile, the college will benefit from a £10m Open University scheme which will see more courses on offer for students.

It is one of seven colleges involved and the only one in the south west. 

Kingston Maurward will receive specialist support throughout the next two years to expand the number of higher education courses available in Dorset. 

Tom Hallam, Deputy Principal, said: “We are delighted to have been successful in our application for Kingston Maurward College to participate in the programme."

Mr Hallam went on to say that their new state of the art University Centre building on campus will lead to a ‘hugely exciting’ collaboration with The Open University and ‘accelerate’ the subjects on offer.