Academics stall northern merger

October 18, 2002

Manchester University's merger with the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology hit a major snag this week when academics rejected the plans on the table. The Association of University Teachers said it was unable to support the move until a number of serious concerns were addressed.

Both Manchester's senate and Umist's academic board voted in favour of merger this week, subject to satisfactory financial arrangements being in place.

Next Wednesday, a final decision will be made that could result in the dissolution of both institutions to make way for a "super-university" in 2004. It would be the biggest UK university outside London, with 28,000 students and a £500 million turnover.

But a meeting of Manchester AUT members agreed overwhelmingly to oppose the merger at this stage. The AUT is trying to reach an agreement with the university management over issues such as the timescale, the constitution of the new institution, and the terms and conditions of staff.

Alan Williams, president of the Manchester AUT, said: "The AUT is not opposed to the merger per se, but we do have some important issues to address, and we are offering a constructive solution."

The AUT is preparing an email ballot of all staff to gauge feelings. Both vice-chancellors have stated that the support of academic staff is crucial to the merger's success.

The merger was floated earlier this year as a way of maximising income from the two research-intensive universities and positioning them to compete globally.

The merger is expected to cost about £280 million. Up to £100 million is expected to be raised from government, the Higher Education Funding Council and regional development agency grants. The rest will be a combination of the universities' own cash, some borrowing and the sale of much of Umist's estate.

One Umist academic said: "They are proposing to close both universities and sell much of the Umist campus for a pathetically small amount. The process is being conducted on a nod-and-a-wink basis and is clearly driven by Manchester University's agenda."

Both universities acknowledge that the branding of the new university, which will have a new name and a new vice-chancellor, will be the key to the successful creation of a "fourth powerhouse" outside the golden triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge.

The new institution would hope to offer unparalleled benefits to teaching and research.

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