Staff sceptical over streamlining of UCL faculty

February 28, 2008

A decision to separate teaching from research at a world-leading faculty at University College London was billed as a way of streamlining administration and freeing up senior academics' time.

But nearly two months after the reorganisation at UCL's faculty of life science, which boasts an association with six Nobel laureates, sceptical voices remain. One senior academic has even created an "obituary" blog lamenting the loss of his department.

The new faculty structure, which took effect in January, abolished eight old departments. In their place are just two divisions - psychology and language sciences, and biosciences - that pool administrative functions and take responsibility for organising all teaching.

Research is undertaken in a series of ten new "research departments".

"(It is) freeing the heads of research departments to concentrate on research-related matters," said Peter Mobbs, the executive dean of the faculty. He said the change, made without job losses, amalgamates research previously spread across several departments.

But not all academics are convinced of the merits.

David Colquhoun runs an "obituary diary" for the old department of pharmacology on his website. He said that, although it was early days, the new divisions were "far too big" and "without coherent themes" and that power had shifted from active scientists to administrators.

"On the teaching side we can't control what courses we run or their content, and on the research side all sorts of things, such as equipment buying, are decided at a higher level," Professor Colquhoun said.

Another academic who believes the benefits of the reorganisation are yet to be seen is Claudio Stern, professor of anatomy and developmental biology, though he stresses that he is keeping an open mind.

"I do not think the old traditional departmental system is necessarily the best, but at the same time you need to have groups that are small enough for academics to retain some say in how they are run," Professor Stern said.

"The big danger is that teaching and research become devolved."

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