A row has broken out between staff and management at University College London over the perceived academic downgrading of the college's education and professional development department.
The EPD department has been rebadged the Teaching and Learning Development Unit after an external review. Existing academic staff contracts will not change, but any new staff will be designated "academic-related" as a result.
From now on, research work should be aimed solely at supporting other UCL departments. PhD students working with staff in the new unit should be supervised only on topics relating to the work of the unit or that of UCL departments, otherwise supervisors should be from an academic department.
Stephen Rowland, professor of higher education in the department, said:
"That has enormous implications for the careers of people in the department, and it indicates UCL's move away from considering higher education as a field of serious academic study. There's a lot of unhappiness about the review itself."
Professor Rowland said the review was carried out to establish how it could best support learning and teaching, rather than with the cross-section of the department's activities in mind.
He said he had to take steps to limit the PhD programme and that has involved turning away candidates.
Michael Worton, UCL's vice-provost, said: "We are not saying the unit cannot do research, but it has to be on issues of direct importance to UCL, which is very different from the blue-skies research that members of an academic department would expect to undertake."
He added that the changes had nothing to do with the upcoming research assessment exercise but formed part of a series of reviews that UCL was undertaking to become a "truly global university".
The review followed a proposal from Toni Griffiths, former EPD head, to turn it into an academic department, Professor Worton said. Professor Griffiths resigned as a result of the changes.
Professor Worton said: "This was looked at very carefully but was seen as not appropriate. That was not the way we wanted to go and not something I felt was the right direction for UCL."
Sean Wallis, joint branch secretary for the Association of University Teachers at UCL, said: "Staff morale is incredibly low, and people are looking for jobs elsewhere. They feel their academic freedom has been undermined."