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Impact of models of merger

Speed and maintaining momentum

Using the host model, the decisions over principalship and board structure can usually be taken early on in the process. With the phoenix model, this process would require input from the Scottish Government.


The phoenix model would deliver a completely new entity including a new board and principal. The appointment of a new principal should involve an open recruitment process. Only in exceptional circumstances agreed in advance with SFC would it be appropriate to restrict applicants to those already in post in merging colleges.

On the one hand it could enable new leadership for a new college but, on the other, it could cause a dislocation between the vision outlined for the new college by the existing individual college boards, and the reality of the implementation.

Another possible factor is that the Partnership Board may lose their ability to influence direction for the new college when the Scottish Government exercises its role in determining the new college. However, there are ways to address this such as:

  • Requesting that the new board includes existing members of the Partnership Board and/or existing college boards
  • Offering co-opted members, perhaps on a time limited basis, to support the new Board.

A host model would overcome potential dislocation as outlined above, but there is a possibility that this model is seen as a take-over which could be problematic for the buy-in of the staff of the new college. However, this risk is minimised by the reforms recently announced regarding college governance arrangements.

The regulatory process with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator may be slightly more lengthy and complex, if the phoenix model is used.

Buy-in from boards and staff

Both models have the potential to either positively or negatively influence the buy-in from boards and staff. As outlined earlier in this paper, a successful communication strategy will go a long way to ensure real support and buy-in from staff and also from boards whatever the model of merger chosen. A clear approach to internal communication is crucial - staff need to understand how the merger may affect them and their job security.

A negative aspect of the host model is the potential for the merger to be seen as a take-over (of a smaller or failing college) and therefore run the risk of alienating the board and staff of that college. However, there are steps that can be taken to address that risk, such as holding joint board events and reforming the board and senior management.

Similarly it will be important for staff within each college to understand the purpose of the merger, the drivers for the merger, the strengths and unique attributes of each college, the continuity of college business and the long-term benefits of the merger. Staff will want to know how they will be affected whatever the model of merger.

Due to the risks outlined in using the host model, the internal communication strategy will need to ensure that equality across the colleges is maintained as the colleges move toward merger. If the communications strategy of a host model is managed well it could also minimise perceptions of job insecurity, as staff would move to an organisation that fully represents a merger of the existing colleges in terms of its board and management structure. This is in contrast to a phoenix model where the board may or may not maintain the existing college structures.

If using the phoenix model, the existing staff would be presented with a demonstrably new college. This could influence buy-in from all sets of staff, dependent on the values attributable to the existing colleges and structures, and opportunities presented by a completely new structure. However, in the current economic climate it is likely that most staff would be seeking job security, as opposed to new opportunities, and for that reason may see a new, possibly unfamiliar, board and management structure as threatening. The phoenix model clearly delivers a new college.

Risks of the process being derailed

This risk of derailment exists whatever model of merger is pursued. With the host model, this may be due to perceptions of takeover whereas with the phoenix model, the risk may result from the time taken to put in place the management structure of the new college. Perceptions of takeover can be minimised and managed through effective communication and project planning to deliver the key messages of the purpose of the merger and to ensure that staff and stakeholders are fully involved throughout the merger process.

One significant influencing factor which has to be clearly understood is the harmonisation aspect of conditions of service. A detailed assessment of the implications of harmonisation should be completed. Whilst it is recognised that this can present significant challenge in attempting to harmonise, understanding the extend of differences and how these might impact on staff integration and development of culture is of great benefit.


Both methods of merging have been used in the past. SFC's experience is that it is the way in which a merger is implemented including the leadership from the board and principals, the level and intensity of communication and the way that services and terms and conditions are harmonised that create (or fail to create) the feel of a 'new' entity rather than the type of governance mechanism that is used.


This guidance was developed in 2012 and will be reviewed.

Your feedback is important so let us know where you have used it or how it can be improved by contacting Linda McLeod, email: