Imperial axes farm sciences

October 15, 2004

Imperial College London is to axe at least 60 jobs in agricultural sciences in a move that could lead to it selling off its 350 hectare Wye campus in Kent.

The decision to close the agricultural sciences department, which had 209 undergraduate and 75 postgraduate students in 2002-03, means applied business management will be left as the only undergraduate course taught at the campus, near Ashford.

Staff in agricultural sciences will be offered jobs at the college's South Kensington campus, in London, and at its Silwood Park campus, in Berkshire.

But a spokesperson said that about 30 academic jobs and a similar number of support staff posts would have to go.

The department is part of Imperial's faculty of life sciences, which is being reviewed by the college.

Agricultural sciences lost£1.8 million this year and the deficit for life sciences is expected to hit almost £12 million by the end of the 2006-07 financial year.

Leszek Borysiewicz, deputy rector of Imperial and interim principal of life sciences, said: "The financial position of the faculty is unsustainable.

Its presence at the Wye campus is not economically viable."

The review should be completed before the end of the year. Once this has been accomplished, the college will undertake another review on the future of the Wye campus as a whole.

Imperial and Wye merged in 2000 and Lord Roxburgh, Imperial's rector at the time, said: "This powerful combination will stim-ulate interdisciplinary research and new initiatives, which in turn will promote undergraduate and postgraduate teaching."

This week, Peter Mitchell, assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said Wye staff were "dismayed" and were critical of college managers for embarking on the third revamp of life sciences since Imperial took over Wye.

He said it was "disingenuous" to attempt to separate the review of the Kent campus from that of life sciences.

"It seems that Wye will not be viable - its future must be in doubt. The business course is very popular, but it's still hard to see why Imperial would leave just one course running there," Mr Mitchell said.

"The view is that Imperial wants to asset strip. Staff are very alarmed."

Jeff Waage, head of the agricultural sciences department who has stepped down as the provost of Wye, said he was saddened by the decision.

Professor Waage rejected the suggestion that the Wye campus could be sold off entirely, adding that a partnership with another educational institution might be a possibility.

Part of the site has been designated a national nature reserve, the first in England to be managed by a university, he added.

The first meeting to outline details of the restructuring plans to Imperial staff was due to be held this week.

Brian Keen, a director of Kent estate agents and chartered surveyors Pearson Gore, said it was impossible to put a value on the land and that much would depend on whether planning permission could be obtained to build housing on it.

He added that the college buildings alone would be worth millions.

WYE MOVE

Membership of the Wye Beagles, an amateur hunting pack with close links to Imperial College London's Wye campus, could be hit by the university's decision to transfer agricultural sciences to London and Berkshire.

The pack, which was set up 57 years ago by Dunstan Skilbeck, then principal of Wye College, has always included a large number of students and staff.

Six of the present hunt staff and committee are current or former Imperial students or graduates of the college.

Will Denne, a former secretary of the Beagles and a Wye graduate, said the decision to close agricultural sciences at Wye would be a blow for the local community as well as horticulture and agriculture in general.

Mr Denne also thought that the Wye campus as a whole was "doomed".

But he said that the Wye Beagles had faced tougher challenges including the theft, by animal rights activists, of its entire pack of beagles - 54 dogs - in January 2001.

The pack starts this year's hunting season this weekend.

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