Mersey-Lancs links spark fears

No urge to merge with Liverpool, insists Lancaster's v-c, but union sounds warning. John Morgan reports

August 4, 2011

Credit: Getty
Strategic partners: the institutions look to work together on long-term interests

The vice-chancellor of Lancaster University has moved to defuse tensions over its collaboration with the University of Liverpool, telling staff that the link-up is "not a merger".

As yet, few details of the nature of the Lancaster-Liverpool collaboration have been revealed. The move follows the announcement of a partnership between the universities of Birmingham and Nottingham and a shift to shared administrative services by a group of six institutions led by the University of Warwick. The government has urged universities to cut "back-office" costs by introducing shared services.

A joint strategic planning group set up by Lancaster and Liverpool, led by former University of Oxford vice-chancellor Sir Colin Lucas, has held preliminary discussions, with initial results expected soon.

Paul Wellings, the Lancaster vice-chancellor, wrote to staff after speculation in the local press about a merger between the two universities.

"Unfortunately, there has been some unhelpful, erroneous speculation in the media that the group has been set up to discuss a merger between the two institutions," he says. "This is not true."

Professor Wellings, who is to leave Lancaster to take charge of Wollongong University in Australia in January, says the group's discussions have been "focused on ways in which the two universities can collaborate in their long-term strategic interest and are not based on short-term financial considerations".

He adds: "The group will report to the vice-chancellors of the two universities, giving each institution time to consider its recommendations prior to publication of the government's White Paper on research and innovation due this autumn."

Mike Robinson, national education officer for Unite, expressed concern that "services could be merged with the potential for job losses. We call on the senior managements of Liverpool and Lancaster to make clear any closer cooperation will not result in compulsory job losses.

"When University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and the University of Manchester merged in 2004, there were job losses and campus sell-offs.

"Both Liverpool and Lancaster are competing for overseas students, particularly in China, and both have ambitious plans with universities in China to recruit students to the UK."

The Birmingham-Nottingham collaboration, announced in March, seeks to encourage partnership on academic appointments, overseas ventures in new markets, research funding applications, procurement and even joint degrees.

David Eastwood, Birmingham's vice-chancellor, said at the time that the move was not a merger, adding: "We would be flattered if people follow suit and I'm sure once it is announced, people will start (asking), 'Is it making a difference?'"

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