Thriving school faces the axe

November 26, 2004

Staff and students are battling to save Cambridge University's School of Architecture from closure, pointing to its popularity with students and a tripling of research income in three years, writes Anthea Lipsett.

Marcial Echenique, acting head of school, hopes to persuade the university's general board not to close the department when it meets on December 8.

Professor Echenique, who replaced Alan Short after he stepped down as head of school in protest against the closure plans, said three of his staff had already been offered chairs elsewhere.

He said: "We've been working very hard with the council of the School of Arts and Humanities (in which the school falls) to have a package that will be satisfactory from a financial viewpoint."

The university insisted that its recommendations were made on academic and not financial grounds. The board recommended closure in October because of concerns about the school's research performance. Its rating fell from 5 to 4 in the 2001 research assessment exercise.

But Professor Echenique said: "At the end of the day, it's all to do with money. We have the best architecture department in terms of teaching and the largest number of applicants for places in the whole of the university."

Professor Echenique blamed the school's falling research rating on RAE subject categories. The introduction in 2008 of a new unit of assessment specifically for architecture means the department will be judged differently.

The school's burgeoning research income - which rose from £1.4 million in 2001 to £4.2 million in 2004 - should also convince the board of its viability, he said.

"We are already three times bigger, and there are three years to go," Professor Echenique said.

If he fails to persuade the board, the school's fate will be debated by the university senate, followed by a vote in Regent House - the resident members of the university's colleges and faculties.

The school's students and alumni will hold a demonstration on Monday, November 29, at 1pm.

Letters, page 15

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