Birmingham makes bid for top

April 19, 2002

Birmingham University is planning sweeping changes to help it become "best of class" among civic universities.

Consultation is under way on a five-year plan that would see some schools cut back to pay for growth in disciplines where there was increased demand.

But some academics have warned that Birmingham was unlikely to achieve its aims within five years unless merger talks with Aston University were re-opened.

Others claimed that the university was trying to set academics in different schools against each other in order to divide and rule.

A consultation paper circulated by the university suggests that rising to the top of a league table of research-intensive, broad-based institutions located in big cities would be a "challenging but achievable aspiration". The university is in the top 15 of that class.

Academics have been asked whether they think it is possible for the university to sustain excellence while maintaining possibly the broadest base of disciplines of any UK institution.

The paper says the size and shape of the university may need to be reconfigured, investing more in growth areas such as business, law, computer science, and sport and exercise science, while being "more realistic" about student numbers in physical sciences, engineering and mathematics.

Most academics who have responded to the consultation paper have supported the idea of sharing resources more selectively to achieve the "best-of-class" target. Some have suggested that merger with Aston University - abandoned last year after Aston pulled out of talks - would offer the best chance of success.

But registrar David Allen said: "We believe it would be possible for us to achieve our aims within five years without a merger with Aston. The only civic institutions that consistently come out ahead of us are Bristol, Edinburgh and Nottingham."

William Edmondson, president of the Birmingham branch of the Association of University Teachers, said that by trading off investment in some parts of the university against cuts in other parts the university was "undermining a sense of collegiality and unity" among academics.

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