Published: 10:01, 01 August 2014
A lack of leadership and a poor understanding of what was happening at each campus led to “a perfect storm” which caused the collapse of K College, according to the new bosses of the institution.
Today, Hadlow College and East Kent College formally take over the running of K College, which has been split up between the two providers after amassing debts of £16m.
While East Kent College will take the Folkestone and Dover campuses under its wing, Hadlow has taken on sites at Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and Ashford.
Each has undergone a five month due diligence programme with the Government to take over their running and will look after the education of about 14,000 students across the county this year.
East Kent College has brought the Folkestone and Dover campuses under its brand while Hadlow has renamed its Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells sites West Kent College and its other site Ashford College.
As they embark on a new era, bosses at the incoming colleges have described how the previous management took their eye off the ball, allowing the institution to fall into financial troubles.
Hadlow principal Paul Hannan said: “We don’t know everything that went on but from what we’ve seen, it is quite surprising that it actually happened.
“As an observer from not too far away, we wondered why certain decisions were being made and ultimately the perfect storm happens with the financial and quality issues.”
East Kent College deputy principal Anne Leese said: “Clearly senior management based at Tonbridge had their eye off the ball when it came to quality and practices across all campuses.
“In Folkestone and Dover the staff felt no one ‘up at Tonbridge’ really knew what was going on. I’m sure there’s a sad story behind the state of affairs which took place.”
K College was formed in April 2010 from the merger of South Kent College and West Kent College and catered for more than 25,000 students at one point.
However, high debt levels brought it to its knees and forced hundreds of redundancies after making significant investments.
Mr Hannan said: “Two weaker organisations being brought together is not necessarily the way forward.
“West Kent had some problems with their capital programme so you ended seeing two colleges come together that were in a really weak position.
“When you put together two very weak organisations with financial and quality issues, that was part of a perfect storm.”
While East Kent College has acquired two campuses, Hadlow College has acquired K College Group, including the majority of its debts and the bulk of its remaining staff.
Hadlow finance director Mark Lumsdon-Taylor said: “That is why we have spent the last four months renegotiating the debt profile, which has been in partnership with the Skills Funding Agency and the bank.
“We have worked closely with them to reposition an affordable debt that we can manage.”
West Kent and Ashford College are a separate legal entity within the Hadlow College Group, with its 600 staff continuing to run the sites.
East Kent College has incorporated 188 incoming staff and is hiring another 40 people following the takeover.