Ecology unit eyes freedom

June 7, 1996

Edinburgh University's radical Centre for Human Ecology is considering re-establishing itself as a "Free University of Scotland" following its effective closure by the university court.

The centre, set up 23 years ago, has been in an increasingly beleaguered position since the surprise resignation earlier this year of its director, Tim Birley, after only six months in post. The university then decided to suspend its MSc course for the coming year, which meant that the CHE's remaining two staff would not have their contracts renewed next session.

The court this week accepted that this effectively meant axing the CHE in its present form, but unanimously accepted a recommendation that human ecology should continue in environmental teaching and research, primarily within the science and engineering faculty.

But Alastair McIntosh, the CHE's teaching director, said there would be a meeting later this month to discuss setting up a "free university" to continue to run the MSc, accredited by a board of distinguished academics and environmentalists. Six sites, including the islands of Eigg, Benbecula and Mull are being considered.

"We invite soundings on whether this is an appropriate thing to do. We would be seeking funding of at least Pounds 50,000, preferably Pounds 120,000," said Mr McIntosh.

Edinburgh and the CHE each blame the other. The university said every reasonable effort had been made over the past two years to create a viable future framework for the centre, but this "had not received an appropriate response". The court had noted the part apparently played in Mr Birley's decision to resign by the attitude of CHE's other staff. But Mr McIntosh denounced this as "slanderous".

"We consider the decision to close the CHE to be political," Mr McIntosh said.

Sir Stewart Sutherland, Edinburgh's principal, said the decision had been taken on academic grounds, not through fear of controversy.

"That is not the tradition nor practice of this university," he said.

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