Fury at plans to prune council

October 8, 2004

Imperial College London plans to become the first UK university to get rid of its elected staff and student governors.

Staff and students are furious at the proposal to remove six elected staff representatives and the students' union president from the council. They claim the scheme, which the college says will improve governance efficiency, is an attack on democracy.

Eileen Buttle, the council's interim chairman, has been conducting a review of the body and its committees. She is due to present her recommendations on how to reduce the membership from 32 to fewer than 20 at a council meeting on October 15.

In a letter to council members, Dr Buttle says the governing body should be seen "as a meeting between those responsible for delivering the college's plans and non-executives charged with ensuring that those plans are delivered in the interests of wider stakeholders. If this revised model for the council is adopted, elected members have no role to play."

Staff members are elected in a ballot of eligible members from the faculties of engineering, medicine and science. The proposed reforms would not affect the council seats of the six senior staff representatives, at the level of faculty principal, who are appointed, not elected, to the council.

Nigel Bell, an elected staff representative from the environmental science and technology department, said the council was unwieldy in its present form but said he had no idea why the removal of the staff and student representatives was being advocated. "It will raise eyebrows," he said.

Peter Mitchell, Association of University Teachers assistant general secretary for the London region, said he was concerned about the "drastic step" Imperial was proposing.

"Staff are clearly a small minority on the council and it gives them a voice but not a veto, so I cannot see the problem," he said.

Mustafa Arif, president of Imperial's students' union, said the president would lose his or her position on the council under the revamp. He said the key to Imperial's future was attracting and retaining the best academic staff and students.

Mr Arif said: "I find it unbelievable that they can claim that not having staff or student opinion available to the governors will be helpful in ensuring that management is working effectively. It contravenes government policy and is unprecedented."

Sir Richard Sykes, rector of Imperial and former head of GlaxoSmithKline, was a member of the Dearing committee that found that councils should include staff representatives.

A spokesman for Imperial said there were concerns that the council had "too many members and too large an attendance at each meeting to act as effectively as it needs to".

The spokesman said a vital element of the review had been to ensure that Imperial's staff and students are "represented appropriately".

Even if the proposals are accepted by Imperial's council next week, they must also be approved by the Privy Council.

chris.johnston@thes.co.uk

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