Senior faculty triumph in bid to scupper London merger

November 22, 2002

A group of 13 senior staff, including some of University College London's most famous names, was credited with halting plans to merge with Imperial College this week. Merger talks were called off.

The group was led by Mary Fulbrook, head of German, and included geneticist Steve Jones, while author John Sutherland also campaigned to halt the merger. Their protest followed reports from sub-groups advising the UCL council, which identified "misgivings" and "a case for a vote of no confidence in the future of UCL".

Provost Sir Derek Roberts said: "We came to the conclusion that there were too many people against it and not enough for it. A number of areas for future collaboration have been identified and may well be pursued. However, the overall conclusion is that the best interests of the two institutions are not served by a formal merger."

The group of 13 argued that, if the December 19 UCL council meeting was simply going to agree to continue merger discussions, then it was vital that the process of selecting a new provost be reinstated immediately.

Professor Fulbrook drafted a motion to an academic board meeting due to take place on November that urged UCL council to reinstate the process of finding a new provost. This was thought likely to have been passed.

She also wrote to members of the UCL council warning that, unless they acted, the merger would go ahead.

She told council members: "If we do not take steps to appoint a new provost, by the time the alleged 'decision' is taken next summer, Sir Richard Sykes will be the only person in place and effectively in charge of UCL's affairs. "This procedure is totally unacceptable. Whether intentionally or otherwise, this is an underhand means of ensuring there will be no other viable options at that time.

"Related to this, we are extremely unhappy that a 'caretaker' provost, brought out of retirement in a part-time capacity to hold the fort while appointing a full-time successor, should have imposed in such a manner such a proposal for major change on us."

Lord Young, who chairs the UCL council, said: "The council had given permission to go ahead with merger talks and a lot of detailed work was done. It did become apparent that the disadvantages outweighed the advantages. The council's policy strategy group unanimously agreed that the merger should not go ahead."

Lord Young did not rule out any future merger.

He said: "There is going to have to be a regrouping of universities. We are going to sit down and see what will work best. The government is going to make considerable changes and we have to be prepared for them."

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