Sterling revives hope of Aston merger

January 16, 2004

The head of Birmingham University has said that he is ready to reopen merger talks with neighbouring Aston University.

Vice-chancellor Michael Sterling said that he had an "open door and an open mind" to the prospect of rekindling the merger proposals that were dropped three years ago, before he took up his Birmingham post.

His comments followed Aston's rejection of a merger proposition from the University of Central England last month.

Aston's university council turned down the University of Central England's offer on the grounds that protracted discussions could lead to "damaging uncertainty" and that there were too many "significant differences" between the missions and the strategies of the two institutions.

The council proposed instead that Birmingham's three universities should enter into tripartite discussions about the future of higher education provision in the city.

But this week, Peter Knight, the vice-chancellor of the University of Central England, said that he expected that his university's governing body would reject the idea of three-way talks when it met later this month.

Professor Sterling told The THES that if that happened, he would be ready for a dialogue with Aston about the possibility of a merger or collaboration along federal lines.

He said: "We are leaving the door open to future discussions with Aston. I think it would make a lot of sense - but it takes two to tango."

Professor Sterling said that any exploration of a possible federal arrangement would have to include talks with funding council officials about how to protect Birmingham's research and performance-indicator ratings.

"If all you do is average the RAE positions, then that is a disincentive for the institution in the lead," he said.

David Packham, Aston's secretary and registrar, said that his university's response to any proposal from Birming-ham would "depend on what is being offered, and on what basis".

For the time being, Aston was still waiting to see what the University of Central England would do about the call for broader discussions, he added.

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