SOMERSET College, in Taunton, will officially merge with Bridgwater College tomorrow (Tuesday, June 14), bringing the prospect of a university in the county town a step closer.

The two establishments, which will initially continue to operate under separate names, are now united as one organisation and will eventually have a single name.

The new college, approved by both sets of governors following a public consultation, will cater for more than 26,000 students and 1,500 staff across a range of further and higher education courses.

Rachel Davies, principal and chief executive of Somerset College, said: “I am delighted that by combining, we have established a secure platform on which to build Somerset’s future, making the most of our strengths and positioning the college to embrace opportunities that support the growth of skills and learning, while meeting the employment needs of our local communities.

"Significantly this merger is also the catalyst needed for university provision in Somerset. The combined colleges with their large university student body, expertise experience and facilities will establish Somerset’s position as an appealing destination."

No announcement has been made as to where it is intended to create the university, but Taunton, as the county town, is considered the possible frontrunner.

Mike Robbins, Bridgwater College principal and designate principal of the merged college, said: “The merger with Somerset College fully supports our vision to become a world-class education and training organisation.

"Combining the current strengths of both organisations will help us create a college with one of the widest choices of academic, professional and technical education and training opportunities in the South West.

"It will also establish a more financially resilient college with the resources to invest in outstanding facilities and centres of excellence in a range of academic and occupational areas across main centres in Bridgwater, Cannington and Taunton, including a new university centre for Somerset.”

Derek Randall, chairman of the Bridgwater College board of governors, said: “This is a hugely exciting development for Somerset and the wider region, which will be of significant benefit to students, employers and our local communities.

"The merged college will play a major role in supporting economic development through the provision of high quality education, training and skills development linked to regional and, in some cases, national demand."

He added that some of the existing Somerset College governors and members of the current Bridgwater governors will form the new board.

Somerset College student governor Sally Mitchell, said, “This is an exciting development for students in Somerset.

"With greater training and learning choices on our doorstep, students will be able to focus on gaining qualifications and experience, ultimately giving us the best route into future employment.”

Molly Blake, president of Bridgwater College Student Union, said: "The merger between these colleges will be an amazing step for Bridgwater College.

"Students are keen to take hold of more opportunities for their future, this merger will allow a greater number of students to access the fantastic facilities that each college has, whilst maintaining their excellence.

"This merger looks to bring a very bright future for the students."