Imperial's life sciences units shed 17 academics

December 16, 2010

Imperial College London is to lay off 17 academics in life sciences after judging their units to be underperforming on research income and citation counts.

Critics warn that some undergraduate modules in biology and biochemistry will have to be axed after losing their convenors and up to 90 per cent of their teaching staff, and that many PhD students will be left searching for new supervisors.

The restructuring spells the end for the department of life sciences' plant and microbial sciences (PMS) unit and the cell biology and functional genomics (CBFG) section.

A new integrative cell biology unit will be created. The 28 staff from the axed units were all warned they were at risk of redundancy, before 11 were selected for integrative cell biology or alternative units, on criteria including research funding and research fit for the new unit.

Most staff from the old units went through interviews with managers before learning of their fate. Fourteen were selected for redundancy, with three early retirements.

Ian Owens, head of the department of life sciences, judged that, of the department's seven units, PMS and CBFG were "substantially below the other cost centres with respect to both research competitiveness and financial performance".

Many staff question Professor Owens' use of mean averages, saying a handful of high performers had dragged up the results of other units. Some of those selected for redundancy outperform academics in units not being dissolved, they argue.

The staff selected for redundancy will leave their posts in July 2011, including all those involved in the administrative infrastructure of teaching, notably the directors of undergraduate studies in biology and biochemistry.

An Imperial spokesman said changes were needed to ensure the department is "internationally competitive" in research, adding that there would be "no significant changes" to course breadth.

Critics argue that the restructuring will severely diminish the range of modules offered to final-year undergraduates, as well as leaving Imperial with no research in plant sciences.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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