Specialist schools feel pinch

March 27, 1998

REDUNDANCIES and merger are on the cards for two of Britain's most prestigious specialist higher education institutions.

London University's School of Slavonic and East European Studies is braced to merge with another university college while the School of Oriental and African Studies is to cut staff to tackle a likely Pounds 1.1 million deficit next year.

London vice-chancellor Graham Zellick has asked SSEES to consider full independence or merger. The school is in financial straits because research income fell last year and academic and teaching costs associated with political change in Eastern Europe rose.

SSEES director Michael Branch said the school will decide after an audit of school finances. A merger was more likely because "there are good reasons for forming stronger alliances", he said.

Professor Zellick said this week: "SSEES is looking at possibly merging with other colleges and their council will meet to decide which of the colleges which might be interested they will want to talk to formally."

SOAS director Sir Timothy Lankester told staff last Wednesday that last year's plan for revenue growth could not solve the school's financial problems. In the absence of corrective measures the school was facing a Pounds 1.1 million deficit which, after depreciation, would be closer to Pounds 1.6 million.

Sir Timothy said that the school, which has about 400 staff, was offering early retirement for eligible staff aged over 50 and a separate scheme of voluntary severance for all eligible staff aged under 50. This will be combined with a near freeze on new appointments.

"Bearing in mind that we have to make a budget for next year, we will need to take stock in early June in the light of applications received by then to see whether it will be necessary to move on to enforced redundancies," he said.

SSEES lost some Pounds 250,000 last year after two of its top 5-rated departments were downgraded to 4s in the 1996 research assessment exercise. School sources say that this was because academics had been producing much-needed text books about new East European states while carrying out research. In addition SSEES has had to increase research and teaching about the new states and recognised languages in East Europe.

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