£285m kick-starts Manchester merger

March 7, 2003

Manchester University and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology secured an extra £80 million this week, paving the way for the UK's biggest higher education merger.

The funds, forming part of a total merger budget of £285 million, were announced following a period of negotiations with three government funding agencies. Sir Martin Harris, vice-chancellor of Manchester, said the package of extra investment on this scale was "unique and unprecedented".

The two institutions will be dissolved in autumn 2004 to form Britain's biggest university with an estimated 34,000 students. The search for a new name and vice-chancellor has begun in earnest.

The extra funds come from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (£20 million); the Office of Science and Technology (£10 million); the Regional Development Agency (£35 million); and an additional £17 million from the government's strategic research investment fund.

Umist vice-chancellor John Garside said the final academic structure of the collegiate institution would be in place by Easter with research focusing on multidisciplinary areas rather than traditional disciplines. There will be a joint estates plan by the end of the year.

Professor Garside said: "From today we will be thinking as one university not two, and that will be a new mindset." He said there would be no compulsory job cuts.

In theory, Manchester and Umist decided to merge last autumn after much soul searching and consultation. In September staff and students will become members of a new "super university" whose name is yet to be decided.

Both vice-chancellors are due to retire in 18 months and insist the new university will be significantly different. "We have the huge advantage of a clean sheet so we won't be hampered by the old ways of doing things," Professor Garside said.

Sir Martin said the merger would succeed because the two institutions were close physically and academically. He said it was time to turn to the academic vision.

But getting the two universities to behave as one will not be easy. Paul Layzell, who is in charge of Project Unity, as the merger is known, said the initiative would fail if the two universities simply entered a marriage of convenience.

Professor Layzell said: "Even if we took the best bits from each and brought them together, we would still have failed. What we are trying to do is create something that is bigger than the sum of its two parts."

Mindful of a history of failed mergers both in higher education and the commercial sector, the two institutions have proceeded towards merger cautiously.

Care was taken to include staff in talks, with 250 people involved last year.

Professor Layzell said: "We had staff involved at all grades, including lay members, and it was key that the merger was not being driven solely by the senior management team."

Joint working groups were also set up to investigate hurdles in finance, human relations, communications and governance.

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