RICHMOND College's over-ambitious expansion is to blame for its financial crisis, Twickenham MP Vincent Cable claimed this week, as he prepared to meet hundreds of staff whose jobs are at risk.
Union bosses have warned strikes may be on the way, as the college's 265 UCU members have voted to ballot for industrial action in April.
Dr Cable said: "I fear that the college may have been a victim of past over-expansion. IT expanded by attracting pupils from across London but this doesn't look to be such a clever idea now. With schools in other boroughs building up their sixth forms, there is now a smaller market for students. Our own borough has been helpful to the college by not providing sixth forms in schools but that is not enough to prevent contraction.
"Despite the government's claims that it is not cutting public spending until next year, we can see the practical effects already. What is so galling is that the front line staff, who do valuable work, are losing their jobs while staff at bureaucratic bodies, like the Learning Skills Council, are keeping theirs."
Up to 100 posts will be slashed in time for the 2010/11 school year. Principal David Ansell has warned staff the college's intake could almost halve in coming years. But the unions have warned that could be the beginning of the end for the college, which is the only provider of sixth form education in the borough.
UCU branch chair Dave Carrier, who has taught English at the college for 25 years, said: "If this policy is carried out the college could well become trapped in a spiral of decline, with our ability to tailor courses to suit the needs and aspirations of individual students severely undermined. Hundreds of teachers and support staff would go. A restricted college could simply not offer the same range of opportunity."
Unison steward Maggie Fordham said shrinking the size of the college would not just affect teaching staff. She said: "Around 300 people are employed in supporting roles at the college. Their jobs are also at risk. Support workers provide a wide range of services, including learning support for students, organising enrolments and exams, giving IT support, catering and cleaning...the list goes on. The college is a major employer locally, and those who lose jobs may well not find alternative employment."
Principal David Ansell said: "It is of paramount importance that we continue to offer a breadth of curriculum and maintain the excellent student support systems that have contributed to making the College one of the top performers in London. Despite some changes, the College will continue to offer a breadth of curriculum that will match or exceed that on offer in any other comparable school or college."
The College is working to minimise the impact on its excellent staff and on the students and communities it serves but the need to reduce its staff costs in order to balance its budget means that it will have to consider managing in the future with fewer staff than it currently employs.