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"Saved", Or Not?

Apr 07 2007 01:19
The Dark Knight
With the publication of a book on the Wye fiasco called "Saved", Live! askes if Wye is really saved - and notices no-one cares.
Enjoying some "team building" at Wye during the summer

The long weekend sees the launch of a book by David Hewson called "Saved", describing the fight between Wye's locals and the College.


In January 2006 residents of the Kent village of Wye formed a group to oppose plans by Imperial to build a science park, converting farmland it owns to that purpose. The plans went as far as to require a new junction on a motorway, with financing to be helped by building housing in addition to the park.

At the same time was formed to comment on the proposals. This quickly became a news source, acquiring private emails from inside the College and publishing them to the world. The information revealed during this process has formed the basis of the "Saved" book, detailing the behind-the-scenes deals behind the biggest development plan Wye has ever scene. Live! has a word of warning for the reader: the website itself reads very much like a fight between Middle England and the evil empire of Imperial College, managing to over-hype things to a level which puts even Live! to shame.

Local opposition and a number of other factors eventually led to the Wye Park project being scrapped. Looking at views from both sides seems to give totally different pictures: from Wye, the message seems to be that the plan was already well advanced, with a substantial sum of money already invested in it. From an interview with Imperial's Deputy Rector, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, comes the story that the plan was not well advanced - his job was to determine if it was viable - and that less than £1m had been spent. How much money is a lot is a relative matter - to (some of) the residents of Wye £1m may be seem like a substantial amount, but the College administration is unlikely to lose any sleep over it.

What of the college?

The village may well have been saved from an influx of outsiders and the destruction of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but as the project dies the future of Wye College looks increasingly shaky.

Wye has had a strange history with Imperial. It was acquired almost as a "repossession" on a loan from Imperial for new library facilities, when Wye College was a loss-making part of the University of London in its own right. As an Imperial campus Wye just about broke even, but only by offseting research and teaching against conference income. This practice is no longer allowed, with each section of College expected to self-fund. Consequently Wye's academic activities became a liability.

With the Department of Agricultural Sciences losing nearly £2m a year, the decision was taking to axe agricultural teaching at the former agricultural college, whilst retaining and reinforcing the successful business course. Despite this the financial problems in the Faculty of Life Sciences continued, leading it to be merged with the Faculty of Physical Sciences, undoing the break-up of the original Royal College of Science.

With the business course somewhat of an oddity, in that it was not attached to the Tanaka Business School, this has also been disposed of. The course will be administered by the University of Kent, but the same course with the same staff is attracting barely 1/3 of the students as before. This may be partly down to confusion: some students currently at Wye believed they would be studying a business degree in South Kensington, with the Tanaka Business School. Consequently the number of undergraduates at Wye is set to shrink dramatically, as the last agricultural sciences students leave, followed by the last Imperial students.

The future of the Wye College now looks increasingly bleak: with Wye Park gone and the new Kent-branded course attracting little interest, ideas for undergraduate teaching are fast running out. College of course still has a nice conference venue in the countryside and quite a pretty place to conduct research.

Does anyone care?

Unlike this, the treatment of Wye is just not cricket

At they have some details about what has become of the people involved in Wye Park, indicating that the whole affair may have turned out badly for them. On the council side there are stories of questionable behaviour of their officers in other parts of their duties, while the futures of Imperial's Rector and Deputy Rector are brought into doubt. What they have missed, however, is that the future of Wye is of little interest to most at Imperial and even slightly further afield: it is far away and has little in common with the rest of the college. Far from being the total disaster it is painted as, Wye Park appears to have been a grand idea which failed to materialise: more a minor irritation than a career-changing balls up. The same extends to the Live! readership: articles involving Wye receive only quarter of the page views of others.

There are no doubt many who care greatly about the future of Wye College, particularly given its long history. It seems that few of them are at Imperial. The big questions must be: Is this the end? If so, is it a fitting one for a college with a long history, which was once among the top players in agricultural sciences?

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Discussion about “"Saved", Or Not?”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Apr 07 2007 09:46

The best thing about this article is that it points out that no one really cares. Going on a quick straw poll of about 20 people only 30% have even heard of Wye!

Still cost us 8 grand from the clubs and socs budget this year mumble grumble mumble grumble....

Apr 08 2007 18:06

In the interest of scientific research, were these 20 people Imperial College staff and students or your family sat around the table for Easter Sunday Lunch James?

Apr 09 2007 12:09

Oooh, scathing.

They were like random students, hobos, taxi drivers, PhD students, various animals and one sabbatical

Apr 09 2007 12:31

That sounds reasonable then. =D

(Was the sabbatical in the 30% who had or had not heard of Wye?)

I think we should turn Wye into a retreat for CSC Execs and club committees to escape to during holidays so as to stop dreaming about claim forms and budget requests. (And begin thinking about degrees and coursework.)

That way clubs and socs see something back from the 8 grand they see disappear and James' straw poll might see an increase in interest in Wye. ;o)

Apr 09 2007 19:13

Move all the administration to Wye - how much needs to be taking up prime space in South Ken?

Apr 10 2007 01:02

Or move tanaka business school (as in the whole Exhibition Road building) to Wye - that much wasted space out there isn't quite so much of a problem - and build something more useful and space efficient in South Kensington.

Apr 10 2007 08:36

The main reason people at Imperial should care about what happened at Wye is that ?1 million was frittered away on trying to carry out a spot of property development in distant Kent, and my sources tell me a further ?2.5 million is being spent relocating what's left of Imperial down here up to London. That is money that could and shoud have been spent on education instead. This isn't a story about educational policy but one of educational governance and what happens when it went wrong.

There was a strong and convincing argument behind Imperial's original takeover of Wye which was seen as the prelude to setting up a 21st century agricultural college. Unfortunately that was thrown out of the window once the agriculture-hating Sykes regime took over and saw the chance of making ?100 million out of the 'property portfolio' it had acquired for a song. I fully understand why people in London don't care about Wye, but you might want to think about what all that wasted money might have achieved if it were put to its proper purpose.

8. Hmm.   
Apr 10 2007 09:35

"The 8 grand they see disappear"

Is that money they only see in the first place because of the extra students at Wye and a proportionate increase in subvention? If not then that's down to the Blue Cube, not Wye.

Of course Wye seems distant to students in London, College know this, and that's why they decided they could get away with such a drastic scheme- but of course the people who actually live there care rather more. Out of interest, how does that 30% compare to the number who have heard of a particular FU or CSC, or who believe in "the world outside the M25"?

Unfortunately you are right that all that has been saved is the landscape, and that only until the next threat comes along, and not the academic life of Wye. But then no one would expect Imperial students to think any institution except their own is worth saving.

(Needless to say, anyone who thinks the profits from this scheme would have gone into education, rather than vanishing into the college fund, blue cube bonuses and property development elsewhere is over-optimistic to put it mildly.)

Apr 10 2007 09:46

"There are no doubt many who care greatly about the future of Wye College, particularly given its long history. It seems that few of them are at Imperial."

Absolutely. Which is why Imperial was the wrong institution to run Wye, if not from the outset of the merger then certainly from the moment Sykes came along. But why admit that when you might be able to make a quick buck from it's demise?

Apr 11 2007 20:31

"move tanaka business school"

That is a blatantly stupid idea, what would be the point in a business school in wye... wye would anyone in their right mind want to study business in wye...?

The tanaka business school is superb example of modern architecture, wye on earth would you want anything else...

Its clearly better than any other building at Imperial, we should tear the other c**ppy ones down and rebuild them in its image.

Apr 11 2007 20:40

Leave the RSM alone you tin can nazi.

Apr 11 2007 20:48

Er especially the RSM, it does not fit in with the Imperial look.

Apr 11 2007 20:53

What - you mean sixties style concrete slabs and rusting metal work? No I should hope not. Tradition is as good as modern if not better.

Apr 11 2007 21:46

It's a shame something that started as a serious discussion about the fate of Wye has degenerated into a b!tching contest of Imperial's building style choices past and present. It shouldn't matter what the buildings look like as long as we continue to receive the first class lectures inside them that we all love and expect. Don't you people have better things to do with your time, like revision?

Apr 11 2007 21:53

Geologsits revise? Are you having me on? That would be against all rules and regulations. You must not revise. You must drink, drink and hit inanimate objects with hammers (including but not limited to rocks). Go wash your mouth out with soap and water.

Apr 11 2007 21:55

soap and what?!

Apr 11 2007 22:00


Although alcohol may well be considered the staple diet of any geologist it is not to be wasted on soap swilling.

So there.

Apr 11 2007 22:05


Apr 12 2007 19:15

you'd have thought that someone somewhere in the college admin could think of something worthwhile and profitable to do with somewhere like wye college.

20. Hmm.   
Apr 13 2007 09:05

"worthwhile and profitable"

I'm sure they have plenty of profitable schemes in mind- not so sure they care about "worthwhile", except in the sense that most of the Blue Cube think worthwhile and profitable are the same thing. (e.g. "top-up fees will enable us to continue to provide a worthwhile undergraduate education")

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