Students may lose in mergers

May 10, 2002

The National Union of Students' new welfare officer warned this week that university mergers may leave students with a worse deal.

Verity Coyle, president of Lincoln University student union, said there was a danger that student welfare could be damaged as restructuring gathered pace .

Ms Coyle said: "The landscape of higher education is changing dramatically, and students' rights must be safeguarded as rules and regulations are all re-evaluated when institutions merge. Unless care is taken, students will find themselves worse off than before."

She said that when two universities with different cultures came together, there was a risk that staff-to-student ratios could worsen. Also at risk were library facilities and access to computer terminals, contact time with lecturers and accommodation and social facilities.

Often such issues were not at the forefront of merger negotiations, Ms Coyle said.

At Lincoln, talks have continued since last year, when parts of De Montfort University, including 1,200 students, were transferred to Lincoln.

Some regulations at Lincoln were more draconian than at De Montfort. For example, Lincoln students who got into debt over accommodation or library use could be locked out of the computer network. At De Montfort, student debts were frozen.

Ms Coyle said it was crucial to ensure rules were levelled, but for the better. She said: "We are confident of achieving this because Lincoln has an open-minded approach."

She added: "It is almost inevitable that after any merger, the first two years are going to be messy, and it is vital that communications channels are put in place to deal with difficulties as they occur. It is often the apparently minor problems - such as course books being in the library on the wrong site - that can cause students the most headaches."

Incompatible disciplinary procedures also needed careful consideration, Ms Coyle said. At Lincoln, associate membership of the student union was immediately offered to all De Montfort students so that any disciplinary disputes could be handled jointly.

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