Director quits in funds row

March 29, 1996

Edinburgh University's centre for human ecology is once again facing an uncertain future following the unexpected resignation of its new director after only six months.

The university court last year rejected a management proposal to axe the centre which encourages research into environmental issues across traditional subject boundaries. Its very breadth has ironically led to its insecure position, since no discipline will earmark it as a budget priority.

The reprieve was bolstered by the appointment of Tim Birley, former head of the Scottish Office rural affairs and natural heritage division, as director for the current academic session. Mr Birley had been a founding member of CHE's executive group when he was an Edinburgh lecturer in urban design and regional planning in the 1970s.

But tensions have emerged within CHE on its strategy. The centre has a reputation for a radical approach to many environmental issues, and there have been fears that growing commercialisation could compromise academic freedom.

Mr Birley said in a resignation statement: "It has become clear that my interpretation of the court's decision - and in particular a refocusing on environmental and public policy, and the need to secure externally funded research and consultancies - and the aspirations of many of the current staff and students, are not aligned."

He defended bidding for external contracts, saying that given the number of bodies now moving CHE's agenda into the mainstream, there was a tremendous opportunity to work with them rather than to adopt a position of hostility and antagonism.

A university spokesman said the position of this year's students would not be affected in any way. But there must now be a question mark over the centre's future within the science and engineering faculty's forward plans.

"The university is very disappointed to receive the resignation of Tim Birley, who had been regarded as a very suitable candidate for the directorship, had been warmly welcomed by the other members of staff in the centre, and had been fully committed to carrying out the remit laid upon him by the university," he said.

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