University College London provost and president Michael Arthur has sought to reassure staff that his institution’s proposed merger with the Institute of Education will not lead to job losses.
Speaking to Times Higher Education, Professor Arthur said the plans to combine the two institutions, based in London’s Bloomsbury district, were driven by academic reasons rather than a desire to cut costs.
According to plans drawn up by the two institutions, the IoE could be officially dissolved by October if both senates agree to the move by July, with all the IoE’s assets, staff and students being transferred to UCL.
However, Professor Arthur, who took over UCL last September, said the merger has been recommended because it will improve research, teaching and other activities at both institutions – which have already been involved in a strategic partnership since October 2012 – rather than for any cost considerations.
“Having a new faculty focused on education and social sciences will fill a huge gap here at UCL,” he said. “Our strategic partnership was already well developed by the time I arrived, but when I looked at it I could immediately see the academic benefits for both institutions if we carried it on.”
UCL’s previous merger in 2012 with the School of Pharmacy, which retained its own leadership and attracted additional investment, had been a huge success and showed that such a move could benefit both parties, Professor Arthur said.
“We are not a predator – we are a thoughtful academic institution that does things for academic reasons, not to make cost savings,” he said.
“This is not about asset stripping but growing excellence.”
Professor Arthur explained that staff at the IoE have been given a guarantee that there will be no job losses in the first year after the transfer, while it will also retain its own branding, building and operational control.
“If anything, there will be more investment in staff and new activities, so it is likely to mean job gains rather than losses,” he said.
Professor Arthur said he was particularly keen to involve IoE staff in UCL’s educational work in London, which has included sponsoring the £30 million UCL Academy, in Camden, that opened in September 2012.
“We see this [merger] as a big opportunity to spread ourselves further around the capital,” he said, adding that he hoped this could make the work of UCL academics “more relevant” to people in London.
However, job losses might be a scenario further down the line owing to a “detailed consideration of the administrative requirement for the new faculty” that would take place after the merger, an internal report by UCL and the IoE suggests.
An IoE lecturer told THE that staff were concerned by “weak assurances” about jobs, though they were not opposed to what many consider a “marriage of equals”.
“We feel like the second wife with a healthy dowry as we’re a high status institution [which should do] well in the research excellence framework and we gained outstanding status from Ofsted – we bring a lot to the table,” she said.
What’s in it for them?: The driving forces behind the planned merger
Why is the Institute of Education merging with University College London? Here are some of the reasons set out in a joint UCL and IoE internal report:
The merger will allow the IoE to invest £40 million in staff and facilities, owing to its being able to “spend down” reserves without a need to set aside cash for future surpluses, the report says. The IoE will remain in its current building but all of its assets will be transferred to UCL. UCL will also take on a £9 million capital loan owed to the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Decreased financial risks
While the IoE has recorded “modest surpluses” in each of the past five years, these were far lower than the sector average, the report says, severely limiting its ability to invest or provide a buffer for unexpected eventualities. Its heavy reliance on postgraduate student recruitment, which has been falling in recent years and may do so further, poses an increased risk. The government’s determination to move teacher training away from universities could also threaten student numbers.
The link-up will allow the IoE to become more competitive, owing to UCL’s stronger international reputation. On two occasions, overseas governments have threatened to withhold funding for doctoral students because the IoE is not ranked in the world’s top 50 universities, the report says. The merger will allow the IoE to compete with the universities of Harvard, Toronto, Columbia and Melbourne, all of which have absorbed stand-alone education schools in the past 20 years.
The IoE undertakes about a fifth of all externally funded education research in the UK. But this research could be developed in a greater “multi-disciplinary context” if allied to work by UCL staff, the report says. The IoE, which will become UCL’s largest faculty in terms of student numbers, will allow UCL to develop its approaches to teaching in higher education, as well as its work with its UCL Academy.