Dundee accused of 'running down' child health institute

But university rejects accusations that it has not honoured donors' wishes. John Gill reports

November 6, 2008

The University of Dundee has been accused of failing to honour its commitments to donors who contributed £10 million to fund a child health institute.

The charge has been levelled by one of the academic founders of the Tayside Institute of Child Health (TICH), who claimed that, just two years after it was finally completed, the university was "running the institute down".

Richard Olver, who was professor of child health at Dundee for 23 years until last year, said the move "makes it look as if donations were sought on the basis of a false prospectus, and suggests a certain lack of integrity" on the part of the university.

Although there has been an extensive restructuring of the medical school and new research areas have been developed, Dundee has strongly denied that the institute is being run down.

Professor Olver, who is now emeritus professor at Dundee and also president of the Academic Paediatrics Association of Great Britain and Ireland, said: "Just this week, the remaining funds in TICH accounts were distributed to new divisions, with no reference back to the original donors.

"Trust and accountability are key aspects of fundraising, and who could be certain about the university's intention in any future fundraising campaign?"

The institute's fundraising drive was supported by the Scottish Executive and the Wellcome Trust, among others. The aim was to bring researchers and clinicians together to improve the study and treatment of childhood health problems.

Although the institute's laboratories opened in 1999, the second phase of the project, the Tayside Children's Hospital, was not finished until 2006. Shortly after its completion, however, the university restructured its medical school.

"Essentially what is happening is TICH is being run down to pay for new appointments elsewhere in the medical school, including additional administrators," Professor Olver claimed.

Times Higher Education understands that, at its peak, the institute had ten senior academic staff, but has since lost four of these, with only one fixed-term replacement.

While the original pitch to donors was that researchers and clinicians would work together in one location, lab researchers have now been split between two new divisions.

A university spokesman insisted that the university was actively recruiting staff to the unit, adding that "funds are being used for the purposes for which they were raised".

On the accusation that donors had, in effect, been sold short, he said: "It is not true to say the university fundraised to a 'false prospectus'."

A successor has yet to be appointed to Professor Olver's chair in child health.

The spokesman pointed out that Professor Olver's replacement "may well lead child-health research to new scientific directions.

"Professor Olver began fundraising for TICH more than ten years ago, and it is obvious that the research priorities for child health may develop and change over that time."

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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