Letter: Take time on mergers

September 28, 2001

Sir David Watson's discussion paper presented to the vice-chancellors using data accrued by Brian Ramsden (Analysis, THES , September 7) may aim to change the shape of higher education, but those institutions to which it is applied should give it deep thought.

Each merger case should be judged on its merits. Lecturers' union Natfhe at London Guildhall is yet to be persuaded that merger with the University of North London, for example, would not be more of a risk than an advantage. As Ramsden says: "In cases in which an institution is the subject of financial pressures, evidence suggests that absorption into another stronger institution will lead to a merged institution which is stronger than the sum of the parts."

The key word here is "stronger". Neither LGU nor UNL fits the bill financially. Guildhall is just able to balance the books, but in all three criteria by which to judge financial health - short-term deposits, annual surplus and net current assets - UNL seems to be in deficit.

It is difficult to see how a bigger institution would attract more income when most of it comes from student numbers via the funding council. Are prospective students really more likely to enrol at Aldgate East because the university has an annexe in Holloway Road or vice versa?

The government aims to raise student numbers mainly through foundation degrees at further education colleges. Most research income goes to the old universities. A postgraduate school might earn some income but not in the short or the medium term. No clear new academic plan has been put forward as to how these problems will be solved, and some governors are rightly worried that our relationship with the local community would deteriorate in such a large institution.

Guildhall governors have to make a decision by October 17. Let us hope that a hasty move will not be repented at leisure.

Alan Lafferty

Senior lecturer in computer-aided design

London Guildhall University

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