Engineers furious as faculties face axe

December 11, 1998

At least two civil engineering departments at London universities face closure, with the loss of five or more academic jobs.

Falling student numbers in the subject and new regulations from the engineering council due in next year have prompted the University of Westminster and Queen Mary and Westfield College to contemplate closure.

Students at Westminster are considering legal action against the university for a possible breach of contractual agreements.

At Queen Mary and Westfield, five people have already been asked to accept voluntary redundancy.

Neither university is recruiting to its courses next year and Westminster has held talks with a number of institutions in London to try to find somewhere to transfer students in the middle of their studies.

South Bank University, which lost 26 people through redundancies in the faculty of the built environment last summer, is said to be a main contender.

But Trish Richards, welfare and education officer at Westminster's student union, said: "Most of the students are up in arms. We have asked the university at least to let the course run out and, if not, to allow students to be fully involved in the decision-making process."

Staff are also concerned that their position may be under threat. The department has just under six staff, which has shrunk from 11 in the past few years. They say the construction hall at Marylebone Road is a unique site that could be more profitably exploited for engineering.

Geoffrey Copland, Westminister's vice-chancellor, said applications to study civil engineering had fallen steeply and could drop further following changes to be introduced by the Engineering Council from next September.

These will mean students studying for MEng degrees, leading to chartered status, will need stronger A-level results, "It was a hard decision but the economics of it no longer work," he said. "Either we invest heavily in it or seek a way for students to complete their degree satisfactorily, which is the prime motivation in finding somewhere else."

A spokesman for Queen Mary and Westfield College said students from year one onwards would be able to continue their studies at the college.

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