'Support' for CNZS but no U-turn on its closure

September 17, 2009

The college at the centre of an escalating row over plans to close its Centre for New Zealand Studies (CNZS) has pledged to continue supporting its work in some form - but stopped short of reversing its decision to wind the centre down.

Birkbeck, University of London, said on 1 September that it was "stepping back" from the centre because it had failed to raise sufficient endowment funds to secure its future. News of the closure prompted an international outcry from academics.

Now a spokeswoman for Birkbeck has said that following discussions with the New Zealand High Commission and the University of London, the college "has come to the conclusion that the best course of action at the present time is to wind down the centre in its current form, review its mandate and operations and seek a way forward for studies related to New Zealand to continue at Birkbeck".

She added: "Like the New Zealand Government, we are concerned to see the work initiated in the centre continue."

Resources donated by the New Zealand Government and private sources will remain at the centre's existing premises.

Times Higher Education understands that the CNZS has sufficient income to keep going until 2011, with running costs of about £100,000 a year.

The University of London previously agreed to support the centre until the end of July 2010 and had allocated £200,000 to this end.

A grant of more than £100,000 from the New Zealand Government, donated in 2008, would then maintain its operations until 2011.

A group campaigning to save the centre was highly critical of Birkbeck's revised position.

Paul Burns, spokesman for the Friends of the CNZS, said: "No one has satisfactorily explained the urgency with which this closure is being conducted ... And we cannot understand how the High Commission has gone along with it."

He added that he was "not aware of Birkbeck following the agreed protocols" for the closure and said the failure to consult staff was "particularly deplorable".

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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