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Merger to create super-university !

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#1 sajan


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Posted 19 November 2002 - 06:44 PM

Merger to create super-university

Two of the "jewels in the crown" of the British academic world announced that they were in merger talks yesterday, in a move which would create a new "super-university" and potentially the richest research institution in the UK.

But university teachers' leaders said the planned link-up between Imperial College and University College London was proof that Britain's universities were in crisis as they fought to compete with international rivals in a climate of serious under-funding.

The two colleges both fall under the umbrella of the University of London, although they are technically universities in their own right.

Initial discussions have been going on for a month, but the news came as a shock to the higher education world. The proposals will be presented to the boards of both universities in December and a decision about a name will be made at a later date.

Staff at both universities were notified of the move yesterday. An email sent by Imperial's rector, Richard Sykes, to his staff yesterday and seen by the Guardian, confirmed the problems faced by higher education. It said: "Britain is extremely fortunate in having some of the world's top institutions of higher education.

However, through years of inadequate funding, standards have fallen and our competitive edge is fading rapidly. If we are to compete successfully as a nation in the knowledge-based economy, it is essential that our top universities are able to compete effectively on a global stage."

The merger would be a big boost for the colleges' research. Combined research income for the two colleges in the last academic year was 406.7m, compared with Oxford University's 206.2m and Cambridge University's 192.4m.

Together, the universities would have 3,000 academic staff, 3,000 research staff and more than 18,000 students.

Imperial College, founded in 1907, has an international reputation for excellence in science, technology and medicine, and boasts 14 Nobel laureates, including Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin.

It came fourth in the Guardian's rankings based on last year's research assessment exercise, which is considered one of the best guides to the quality of Britain's higher education institutions. UCL, founded in 1826 as the University of London, came seventh.

UCL, however, faced controversy after its provost and president, Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, resigned following a coup by a group of academics over the direction of the college.

A joint statement issued yesterday said: "The two colleges have now decided, in response to opportunities in the globalisation of education and research, and to their interpretation of current government policy in these areas, to embark on a process that could lead to the decision to merge these two institutions into a new university."

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "This development is very concerning, particularly as the two colleges are proposing to stage an in-depth analysis, consult with their staff, and formulate proposals all within the period of two months.

"Ultimately, the fact this is even being mooted bears out what we have been saying for months now: because of under-funding, the nation's universities are in crisis and the quality of education that can be delivered is in decline."

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