PRESENT: Sir Derek Roberts, Alistair Lockhart, Prof. J. Ashmore, Prof K. Burk, Prof. D. Colquhoun, Prof. J. Croll, Prof. J. Foreman, Prof. M. Fulbrook, Dr J. Haight, Prof J. S. Jones, Prof. J. Sutherland, Prof. J. Yates
The Committee (CUCL) thanked the Provost (DR) for agreeing to meet; both sides concurred that to have done so earlier might have been useful. Many of the points made by the press, particularly Simon Jenkins in the Evening Standard showed, DR felt, "ignorance, arrogance, and bias", and our own web site was not innocent of such things.
It is clear that some of CUCL's claims are in error. The initiative for the scheme came not from DR, but from Sir Richard Sykes, who first suggested an informal discussion of the possibility some weeks ago. DR did not suspend the search for his successor: this was done instead by the Chairman of Council who felt that such a search was pointless while merger discussions continue. (These errors have been corrected on our web site.)
DR stated that the plan was not put before Council itself as at present it is no more than an "agreement to enter into discussions" with IC.
In response to CUCL's statement that many at UCL and IC see this as a fait accompli against which opposition is pointless, DR insists that this not the case, saying that "Nothing could be further from the truth. I do not see this as a fait accompli" and "it's a nonsense to say it's a done deal". He emphasised that a genuine discussion will take place, with either acceptance or rejection a possibility. He himself plans to address a number of open meetings in College over the next few weeks and hopes that Richard Sykes may be persuaded to do the same. DR said that what some have called leading questions that presuppose merger on the documents being sent to Heads of Departments ("What opportunities do you see for your department after the merger?") are nothing of the kind: the debate is open and no decision has been taken.
CUCL welcomes his statement and looks forward to taking part in the ongoing debate.
DR is convinced of the fact that this is not a take-over, but a merger of equals. He objects to the use of the word "threat"; the only threat is the threat of not proceeding. We cannot stay on the academic knife-edge we have been balancing on for the past twenty years. The financial situation is not as dire as painted: the UCL deficit is not £8M as previously stated, but probably only half that figure . There are obvious costs involved; but as we are now such an early phase of discussion it would be premature to estimate them. UMIST-Manchester had applied to the HEFCE for £40M and it would be the intention of UCL/Imperial College, if there were a decision in favour of merger, to make a similar bid to the HEFCE and possibly also direct to Government.
CUCL members pointed out that the Manchester merger has been rumoured to have cost up to £220M and that our own is likely to be even more expensive. It might be wise to attempt at least a preliminary financial breakdown as part of the present case for fusion. DR disagreed, although he agreed that the possible eventual cost could be in the order of £100 million, or £200 million or possibly even more.
Many people at UCL are alarmed by the speed at which a decision which will so much affect the future is being made. DR responded that what is most unsettling is uncertainty; we must focus our attention over these few weeks and not fritter it away in a long period of consultation. In addition, a long delay would make it impossible to start looking for a new Provost for 2003 in the case that the Council decides against the merger. All the documents are on the merger web site (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/proposedmerger/) and those on CUCL who have not read them all are at fault for their negligence. Many of the substantive issues – costs, who goes on what site, rebuilding plans – need not be faced until the December decision has been made.
CUCL felt that to allow only ten weeks for consideration by the academic community was precipitate (although our attentions had certainly been focussed). DR disagreed.
CUCL felt that a two-site solution interfered with collaboration. DR pointed out that UC already has some distant outstations, which liaise with the centre and that in any event most collaborations are with other universities. A discussion about a "University of Bloomsbury", combinations of colleges that might join UCL to form a larger grouping on a compact site rather than the present two-site solution led DR to speak of telephone calls and letters from the heads of Bloomsbury institutions expressing preliminary interest in the possibility of joining the two-site consortium. However, the present plan is itself so complex that it is unwise to pursue these for the time being.
CUCL heard this with interest and asked whether this was not a case of re-inventing the University of London. DR pointed out that the federal institution was now more a loose alliance than a centrally run organisation and that the merger plan would not be a return to the old days. The University of London would be involved through, for example, its control of Senate House Library (to which the UCL-IC group would subscribe). The joint institution would seek the right to confer its own degrees, which would remove one function of the U of L. There had been rumours of, for example, biomedicine and the arts staying in Bloomsbury and physical sciences going to South Kensington. No such decisions had been made and although there would be movement DR expected that most academic fields would retain some presence on both sites. The claim of a single 700-entry medical course was foolish; it gives rather the opportunity for new approaches "MD PhD programmes; graduate entry; traditional entry" to teaching.
Particular concern was expressed by members of Arts departments at UCL. For scientists it was easy to see synergies between the two campuses and how many might "gain excellence"; but IC has – in effect – no presence in the humanities and it was hard to see what Bloomsburyites would gain from a merger. Arts students in particular (and their numbers are buoyant) would not be attracted to a such a science-based university An attempt some years ago to increase education in these fields at IC had foundered under the pressure from the large and dominant science departments; and the teaching in, for example, languages now has a simple service role and is primarily done by people on short-term contracts who could be dismissed with no costs in terms of redundancy pay. There are 80 staff on fixed-term contracts and only 16 full-time academic staff in the Arts and Humanities at IC, only one of whom had had her name put forward to the Research Assessment Exercise and that not even through IC but through one of the Institutes of the SAS. There was real alarm at UCL that the arts and humanities departments – many of whom were highly rated – would be diluted and/or reduced to a secondary role in a huge science-led institution. Loss of brand image might also affect recruitment of high quality students, so that currently flourishing Departments such as English and History might find it less easy to expand.
DR -UCL has the ability to generate excellence across the whole of learning and not just in science. We are not trying to create a new MIT, but a new Harvard; and the merger should be seen as a benefit to IC rather than a cost to UCL. In fact it would "turn Imperial into a proper University for the first time". As Provost he had worked to support the arts with developments in, for example, the Slade School; and the new grouping, the efficiency gains to be made by cooperation in the sciences, and planned increases in government support for higher education might allow plans such as the Panopticon project in Gordon Street to go ahead.
CUCL pointed out that both Harvard and MIT had one ingredient that we lack – a large endowment. The Arts delegates accepted that their subjects had flourished under DR's stewardship and were in part reassured about their future in a joint institution; but they remain uncertain of the views of the proposed new provost of UCL and felt that the crucial question of who would do service teaching at the South Kensington site had not been sufficiently addressed.
On the more general question of redundancy, DR pointed to the statement on the consultation document. Claims that we would lose 4000 students and equivalent numbers of staff were fantasy. Indeed we might attract more applicants; LSE had done very well under its high-fee policy and pursuit for excellence, to such a degree that three quarters of its students now come from overseas. However, both sides of the argument felt that to enter into the question of top-up fees at UCL, IC or their joint venture was not central to the main issue and should be avoided.
A discussion on "institutional core values" led to broad agreement by both sides. DR assured us that UCL's unique ethos would be safe under the stewardship of Richard Sykes, but CUCL remained sceptical about whether he [DR] could give any such guarantee.
CUCL welcomed the Provost's frank and robust response to its questions. It was, they felt, typical of the UCL tradition of open debate. The message coming from IC was very different. Many academics who have moved from the latter to the former have commented on the difference in atmosphere; IC more management-led, more corporate, and more intimidatory towards its staff, while UCL retains a collegial feel. Some at IC have commented on the lack of response from their own campus; they feel that this results in part from an unwillingness to put heads above parapets and to incur the wrath of management. They were alarmed at the prospect of such a change in the ethos of UCL.
DR pointed out that there had been a real prospect of Sir Richard Sykes becoming Provost of UCL three years ago and that little alarm had been expressed then. Perhaps IC had been undiplomatic in its merger policy in earlier years, but that was under a previous regime. Change is inevitable; and we should embrace it now. Both parties agreed that the next month or so will represent interesting times.