Rebels threaten merger

July 4, 2003

Members of Manchester University's "parliament" are threatening to scupper the university's £285 million merger with the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in protest against the planned constitution of the new "superuniversity".

Fifteen members of Manchester's 200-strong court have this week sent a letter to members calling on them to vote against the dissolution of the university unless "very serious shortcomings" in the planned charter and statutes of the merged institution are addressed.

They believe that about 60 votes against the dissolution - and possibly fewer depending on attendance levels - would be enough to block the merger, as the university needs a two-thirds majority of court members to give the plans the go-ahead at a crunch meeting on July 17.

In the letter, the 15, including local television presenter Jim Hancock and academic representative Stacy Roberts, say: "We have reluctantly decided to vote against the resolution... calling for the dissolution of the university.

"We are, of course, fully aware of the serious difficulty this will cause for the progress of Project Unity [the merger plan]."

The group argues that the new constitution of the merged university - which will have more than 31,000 students and 9,200 staff - will reduce the role of the court to a mere "dining club".

The court is known informally as the university's parliament because it is able to hold the smaller governing council to account.

It comprises elected members of staff, alumni and nominees from local stakeholders such as local authorities and businesses.

Under the current plans for the new institution, the court would meet just once a year and would lose its power to veto council decisions through the two-thirds rule.

Trevor Marshall, a retired Manchester mathematician and member of the court, said: "If this constitution is passed on July 17 - ironically the centenary of the current charter - the court will become meaningless.

"So the vote over the dissolution of the university could be the last time it can ever hold the university to account. If the constitution goes through as it is, the university's council will effectively be accountable to no one."

The group is also concerned that the governing council of the merged university would be "self-perpetuating" - able to appoint a majority of its members itself. At present, the court appoints the council's lay members.

A spokesman for Manchester said: "We are still in the midst of a consultation process, and the constitution is still to be discussed further by the council, senate and academic board of the two institutions. We are required by the Privy Council to demonstrate that there has been widespread consultation and we will be able to."


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