Fresh blow to federal future

December 16, 2005

University College London came one step closer to breaking away from the University of London this week when it decided to use its new degree awarding powers - granted in September and currently held in reserve.

The move will raise more questions about the future of the federal university in the wake of the unanimous decision by the governing council of Imperial College London to leave the university last Friday.

Malcolm Grant, the provost of UCL, said the college would not seek an "early departure" from the University of London.

"We will attempt to reform from within and to improve the university's responsiveness and efficiency. Imperial's departure will be a major blow to the federal university," he said.

"We are disappointed that the University of London has not done more to persuade Imperial to stay."

The University of London changed its constitution to allow members to use their degree-awarding powers without leaving the university last year.

Although several colleges have applied for and been granted degree-awarding powers, none has chosen to use them.

A spokesperson for the university said: "Any college wishing to use its own degree-awarding power while remaining part of the University of London would need to persuade the heads of colleges committee and the university council that it would be appropriate."

Stephen Hill, principal of Royal Holloway, insisted that the University of London was not under threat.

"We are very disappointed that Imperial has decided to leave. But the University of London includes a large number of world-famous institutions - none of which is planning to go at present."

He said that Royal Holloway had a strong international reputation in its own right but that it had also benefited from the University of London title.

A spokesperson for King's College London said that the institution had no current plans to leave the university.

The university itself issued a statement saying it was "regrettable" that Imperial had "voted to explore the formal process of withdrawing from the university". It went on: "Imperial's decision needs to be interpreted with caution and not necessarily be seen as the final separation from the University of London."

But Rodney Eastwood, director of strategy and planning at Imperial, said the college hoped to start awarding its own degrees to its 2008 intake.

Sir Richard Sykes, the rector, said: "Imperial has an international reputation that is independent of the University of London. It is absolutely right that we should promote our own identity and award our own degrees."

The university is in the process of reviewing its governance structure.

A University of London spokesperson said: "Imperial's decision will not have an effect on the review of the governance process, which is expected to be completed by summer 2006. The university will continue with its commitments to the remaining large multi-faculty and the smaller specialist and internationally renowned colleges and central institutes."

The university is also in talks with the Quality Assurance Agency over a report on its role in awarding degrees. The report is expected next month.


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