Low intake of university-level courses at West Notts College

Former chief executive Dame Asha Khemka outside the college.
Former chief executive Dame Asha Khemka outside the college.

A project designed to offer university-level courses at West Notts College has lowered the number of students it expects to attend in the next few years.

Take-up rates were lower than expected, and one authority which funded the project has said targets have been missed, and there are several risks surrounding whether the scheme will achieve its targets.

It comes after the college was given £10.3 million in March this year to help plug financial losses.

In October last year, chief executive Dame Asha Khemka stepped down after the Mansfield college revealed it faced financial difficulties and had been told to improve its financial position by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA).

Now, the proposed pupil numbers for next year have been reduced from 589 to 140, as the college acknowledges their targets have been “extremely difficult” to achieve.

Back in September 2015, the college was given a £2.6 million grant for its Vision University Project, which aimed to set up a centre for higher education, predominantly for people in Mansfield and Ashfield.

Research carried out ahead of the grant said there was an “imperative” need for the education in the area, and “ambitious” targets for growth were set.

But next year’s pupil numbers target has been reduced, and the target for 2020/21 is also now lower than it was this year.

The college, which is rated good by Ofsted, has been hit by a range of setbacks, many of which were beyond its control according to a report by the Local Enterprise Partnership D2N2.

It said: “The withdrawal of the nursing bursary (a decision by the Government) has had an impact on the college’s access to nursing programme, by far the largest course in the portfolio.”

The relatively low take-up of the higher-level courses mirrored difficulties on other courses.

“The college experienced a drop of 125 higher education students between the years 2016/17 and 2017/18 with numbers stabilising in 2018/19,” the report said.

“This decline in traditional higher education meant that the college has not met its projected growth targets as part of the original bid. The college still believes that there is a need and potential to develop higher education for the local area.

“That funding for higher level and degree apprenticeships particularly in leadership and management is removed.”

Other short courses at the university have also been dropped, due to “dwindling numbers and a lack of interest on behalf of local employers”, the report said.

A spokeswoman for West Nottinghamshire College said: “The targets we set for our new university centre were very ambitious and have proved extremely difficult to achieve.

“Market conditions have significantly changed and the competition has grown, with many universities now making unconditional offers to prospective students.

“However, there remains a clear need to provide high-quality, affordable and accessible higher education to the communities of Mansfield and Ashfield.

“We continue to work closely with the Local Enterprise Partnership to develop shared expectations which will ensure this flagship community asset is used to its full potential, and we are in discussions with our university partners and local employers on proposals to grow our curriculum in key areas to meet specific labour market needs.

“We believe our new plan is achievable and sustainable going forwards.”