Job fear as Welsh duo aim for top

December 9, 2005

Bangor University plans to forge a "unique" research alliance with Aberystwyth University in an ambitious drive to join the Russell Group of top institutions.

In what appears to be the latest development in the phenomenon of research pooling that is sweeping Britain's Celtic fringe, Bangor and Aberystwyth, which are each medium sized and of moderate research standing, hope to win Welsh Assembly backing for substantial funding to merge their research efforts. It could mean joint submissions to the next research assessment exercise.

Union would also involve joint appointments with about 35 academics, from chairs to research fellows, being recruited initially across the two universities. Academics seen as underperforming in research could lose their jobs.

A joint research director would be appointed to oversee all collaborative work. Initially, joint research would focus on projects in environmental science, materials science, English and history. But in the longer term the goal would be to collaborate over a broader range of disciplines.

The move offers a potential breakthrough in the assembly's reconfiguration agenda to pool Welsh higher education resources.

Bangor wants to boost research ratings through "transformational change", involving shedding underperforming staff and launching an international headhunt for about 24 research stars.

A consultation paper circulated to staff says: "Voluntary severance followed by strategic reappointments is essential if we are to achieve our aspirations."

Merfyn Jones, Bangor's vice-chancellor, told The Times Higher : "What we are trying to do is ensure that our staff are operating at the highest level of research activity. If that is not possible, we would wish to discuss whether working in this university is necessarily the best option for them."

Professor Jones said that the proposal would help Bangor join the Russell Group elite. "Many of our departments look a bit small, but put them together with Aberystwyth and they could compete with anyone," he said.

But union leaders warned that the university risked damaging its reputation for teaching and student support. Eileen Tilley, president of Bangor Association of University Teachers, said: "The effect on staff morale has been devastating. It seems they are sacrificing a lot to focus on unrealistic research aims."

Noel Lloyd, Aberystwyth's vice-chancellor, said the venture would "eventually encompass the whole of our research activity".

An assembly decision on whether to fund the initiative is expected early in the new year.

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