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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Collaborations, alliances and mergers in higher education: outcomes from the consultation

1. This circular letter sets out the outcomes from the recent consultation on ‘Collaborations, alliances and mergers in higher education: lessons learned and guidance for institutions’ (HEFCE 2012/06), and our proposed next steps.

2. Both before and during the consultation period we engaged with a large number of people across the higher education sector, through events organised by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE) and meetings with sector bodies and professional groups. In addition we received 16 formal responses to the consultation. Overall there was broad agreement with the findings set out in our report, though some respondents wanted specific points to be added or emphasised more. There were also various suggestions about how we might extend and update the guidance as the sector goes through a time of rapid change.

3. The report included nine case studies to supplement evidence from academic literature and other sources. While we attempted to achieve broad coverage across the spectrum of collaborations, alliances and mergers (CAM), there was inevitably a limit to what we could do within the time and resources available to us. Several respondents said the guidance might be enriched by case studies on transnational ventures, cross-border collaborations within the UK, and federations. In addition, in the light of the 2011 White Paper, ‘Students at the heart of the system’, there has been considerable speculation about the increasing role of private providers within the wider HE system and the possible forms of their relationships with HEIs.

4. We asked if the sector would like us to work with other bodies to develop detailed briefing guides on CAM-related issues. The response was mixed; while some institutions saw value in having more specific guidance, others observed that the uniqueness of each CAM project would limit its usefulness.

5. There were no major concerns about HEFCE’s role in relation to CAM activity. However, some respondents noted that our powers and responsibilities in relation to private providers of higher education are not yet clearly defined. We were also urged to continue working collaboratively with other agencies, to avoid duplication of effort and additional regulation.

Next steps

6. We have updated the report in the light of the consultation, and this is available at We will formally review this guidance in three years’ time, to ensure that it remains relevant and up-to-date.

7. The sector’s responses indicate a strong desire to broaden the range of evidence available to institutions. We therefore invite institutions to prepare and publish summaries and evaluations of their own CAM projects, as a resource for the whole sector, and we propose hosting these on the HEFCE web-site. Annex A sets out guidelines and a suggested format. The case studies would express institutions’ own views and perspectives, which HEFCE would respect while maintaining broad editorial standards.

8. We also propose to run periodic seminars on CAM developments, through the LFHE or other suitable bodies. These could focus on specific issues, current developments or case studies. In partnership with other sector bodies, we will continue to assess whether there is a clear demand from the sector for more detailed briefing guides on CAM issues.

9. Where institutions wish to discuss the future CAM projects with us (in the case of mergers, this is a formal requirement under their financial memorandum with HEFCE), they should in the first instance contact their HEFCE regional consultant or associate director. David James (tel 0117 931 7328, e-mail remains the point of contact for queries about the guidance on CAM projects, the publication of case studies through HEFCE’s web-site, seminars and other sector events.

Yours sincerely


Sir Alan Langlands

Chief Executive

Date: 5 September 2012

Ref: Circular letter 22/2012

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions, Heads of universities in Northern Ireland

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Senior management, Governance, Strategy, Finance

Enquiries should be directed to:

David James, tel 0117 931 7328, e-mail