STUDENTS on both sides of Butser Hill will benefit from an "exciting" plan to merge two Hampshire colleges by the start of the 2019-20 academic year.

That’s the hope of Sara Russell and Mike Gaston following the surprise announcement of plans to merge Alton College and Havant and South Downs College (HSDC).

The ball started rolling in 2015 when the Government launched a review of post-16 education in England to ensure providers were financially stable, well run and able to meet the future needs of individual students.

The review was keenly felt south of Butser Hill as it resulted in the merger of South Downs College and Havant College last summer.

The move appears to have been a success as figures from the Department of Education showed HSDC to be the top college for academic and vocational excellence in the Portsmouth area.

The college is also one of just two in south Hampshire chosen to deliver ’T-Levels’ from 2020.

A "resilience-enhancing" merger between Alton College and Basingstoke College of Technology was also proposed early last year but that relationship didn’t work out.

But bosses at the high-performing college, which has a 99.2 per cent A level pass rate and 100 per cent pass rate for vocational courses, are confident the merger with HSDC will be a success.

"We are excited about the vision of enhancing and building on the outstanding academic provision at both institutions," said chairman of the governors at Alton College Ian Gibson.

Principal and chief executive at Alton College Sara Russell said the partnership "represents a new and exciting chapter for the college and the local community."

She added: "The partnership with HSDC will maximise the opportunities available to students and will build on the educational character and values of both colleges with a continued joint commitment to excellence."

Alton College will retain its name and branding under the merger but will become part of a college group with HSDC.

Mr Gaston, who is principal and chief executive at HSDC, believes the merger will provide "wider opportunities for all learners".

He said: "We’re really pleased that we have been asked to join with Alton College and are very excited about this opportunity.

"The board at HSDC is delighted that Alton College has chosen HSDC to work in close partnership, with the aim being to secure a merger by April 2019."

He added: "We have achieved so much in such a short time with the merger between Havant Sixth Form College and South Downs College, and it’s excellent that Alton College has recognised that success."