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UCL Provost: merger not "a done deal"

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Oct 25 2002 23:15

In an e-mail to all students Sir Derek Roberts, Provost of UCL has commented on the proposed IC/UCL merger and the issue of tuition fees.

Oct 27 2002 15:00


Having graduated from Imperial in what now seems a previous lifetime, I thought that I should put forward a few points about the merger. My own opinion is that the proposal as it stands is fundamentally flawed and runs against the whole structure and traditions of the University of London. I'm not sure that anyone has really put forward the pros and cons of a merger (from an IC stand point) so I'll attempt to create my own list of the more important points:


1. In most universities Arts courses are used to subsidise the teaching of more expensive lab based subjects in science, engineering and medicine. Until appropriate levels of funding are available science and engineering subjects will continue to lose money. See the Times Higher Educational Supplement discussion area for further information about this. By running a profitable sideline in Arts subjects the proposed new university can close some of this funding gap, albeit by running courses with limited lecture hours and consequentially content.

2. Increased Faculty Numbers should widen departmental coverage and improve opportunities for research within the new university. This will be particularly important with interdisciplinary research becoming more important in the sciences.

3. By combining departments, competition for research grants should be reduced.

4. It will reduce the number of university administration and support staff. Underperforming areas will be 'rationalised'. Although, anyone who has been involved in a merger will tell you this is a forlorn hope.

5. There are already combined courses between IC and UCL e.g. the MSc in Transport Engineering


1. Over time the arts and humanities departments in a combined UCL/Imperial university will erode away. The rationale behind this is that its research strength will be in science and engineering, the best arts students and lecturers will be put off by this. Just ask staff in the humanities department about what their dream job would be.

2. The merger will not necessarily improve the entrepreneurial culture of the university. In fact by significantly increasing the size of a department you may stifle it even more. Technical universities such as Imperial must have a hinterland of closely coupled companies to be sustainable. It is only through this close coupling can relevant research be developed and brought to fruition. Otherwise it will be pure research with little in the way of application.

3. Establishing a new brand will be expensive and put off alumni from giving funds to the new university. Why would anyone give money to a college or university to the one that they were associated with?

4. Globally, IC's brand has better recognition. However, the strength that it has is its focus, it doesn't try to compete with Harvard in every single subject area. UK universities are financial small fry in comparison to the US, with $18Bn in the bank, Harvard can always cherry pick the best researchers from the UK. Effectively, we might have more researchers than everyone else but this doesn't mean that the new university will be necessarily staffed with 'the best in the world'.

5. During my time at IC, I experienced a joint course, which was conducted over video link. It was pretty hopeless (putting it politely), and people just stopped attending the lectures.

6. Both institutions are having financial problems, by combining two such institutions, you're likely to come up with an institution with even worse financial problems and cost everyone a lot of money in the process.

Counter Proposal

I agree with the Rector in that Science and Engineering provision in London needs to be consolidated, but the same goes for the social sciences and the arts as well. My own proposal would be to consolidate Science, Engineering and Medicine departments with those at Imperial, consolidate the social science departments at the LSE and the Arts at Kings. This would set up all three institutions as the premier institutions within their relevant areas within Europe, and raise their international profile. Moreover, no one would have issues surrounding their profile or branding. To retain standards, overall there would need to be a reduction in student and staff numbers within the consolidated departments, but this should improve the overall staff and student profile. This will not resolve any of the short term financial or the plethora of other issues that IC or UCL face- the lack of a common science/engineering core, the fact that so many academics seem to lack real world experience, accommodation issues and so on. However, I believe that this proposal would make much more sense for the college and the University of London in the long term. If the Rector really thinks that the merger and financial concerns are REALLY divorced then let him speak. Mergers should be made from a position of strength not out of weakness- financial or otherwise.


Nov 05 2002 18:00

Just one thing still puxxles me about the whole merger thing ...

What ever happened to this?

Nov 05 2002 18:00

Er, that should be "puzzles", obviously.

4. aqeel   
Nov 05 2002 18:04

I seem to remember the report in Felix mentioned in that article was actually a total fabrication. Is Dave Roberts around to confirm this?

Nov 06 2002 14:11

The story is that the-then Felix Editor, Dave Roberts, invented the LSE merger "news" in conjunction with the-then Beaver Editor. (Beaver the name of LSE's newspaper, as well as their College mascot.) The idea was they would run the news simultaneously. Unfortunately for Dave, Beaver did not keep their side of the bargain...

6. aqeel   
Nov 06 2002 19:52

Exactly. The amusing thing is that the article had some people in college quite worried.

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