Free-thought transfer?

Threatened Middlesex centre may relaunch at Kingston in September. John Morgan reports

June 8, 2010

Middlesex University’s philosophy research centre may be “transferred” to Kingston University after it was threatened with closure under controversial plans.

The Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) could relaunch at Kingston in September. Its four senior staff and MA and PhD students would also transfer.

The football-style transfer is thought to have been negotiated between Kingston’s management and Middlesex’s philosophy staff.

A joint statement from the two universities says: “Middlesex and Kingston universities have been in discussions over the transfer of postgraduate philosophy programmes and research, plus associated staff, from Middlesex to Kingston. Those discussions are at an advanced stage and neither institution is able to comment further at this point.”

Middlesex was hit by a barrage of criticism from academics around the world last month when it announced that it would phase out all undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and research in philosophy, citing low undergraduate numbers.

Many concluded that the CRMEP, Middlesex’s highest-rated department in the 2008 research assessment exercise, would also close.

The CRMEP’s annual quality-related (QR) research funding of about £170,000 is unlikely to follow the unit in the transfer. It is thought that Kingston would have to provide financing itself, with Middlesex continuing to be eligible for the QR cash despite no longer paying staff salaries.

Two professors and a senior lecturer at the CRMEP – Peter Osborne, Peter Hallward and Christian Kerslake – are scheduled to appear before disciplinary hearings at Middlesex on 9 June following claims by the university that they were involved in student protests against the course closures.

Professor Osborne, director of the CRMEP, said of the potential transfer: “What’s important from our point of view is that it demonstrates it is not impossible to have research-based philosophy in a post-1992 institution.”

He argued that institutions at the forefront of widening participation must offer subjects such as philosophy to ensure those disciplines are open to students from outside “one particular social class”.

Professor Osborne also said that Kingston’s willingness to host the CRMEP showed that course closures in some disciplines are not an inevitable consequence of higher education’s funding problems.

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