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The Committee for UCL (revised 27/11/2002) 1 The proposed ‘merger’ of UCL and Imperial College "The Stanford/UCSF merger experience, which ended in ignominious failure and an enormous debt, stands as a stark warning of blithely merging two distinct academic cultures, particularly when they are not geographically co-localized." Phyllis Gardner MD, Stanford (signatory) This document is an attempt to state the case for and against merger in plain English, and to aid the process of gathering the views of those most affected by the proposals to merge with IC. This proposal originated in talks between Derek Roberts (DR) and Richard Sykes (RS), and started only a few weeks ago. UCL’s provost, within months of taking office for this, the last year of his association with the college, appears to have agreed with RS’s initiative that, if passed by Council, would end UCL’s existence (“After half an hour he [RS] said, "Why don't we cut through all this and explore a merger to create a world-leader? "My [DR] instant reply was positive”).. A press announcement was made on October 14th, before Council had met. At a meeting of academic board (AB) on Thursday 18th October, the Academic Board was notified of what DR and RS wished to do, there was little opportunity for consultation The search for a new provost was immediately suspended. DR states “Assuming a favourable decision by ...
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The Committee for UCL (revised 27/11/2002) 1
The proposed ‘merger’ of UCL and Imperial College


"The Stanford/UCSF merger experience, which ended in ignominious failure and an enormous
debt, stands as a stark warning of blithely merging two distinct academic cultures, particularly
when they are not geographically co-localized." Phyllis Gardner MD, Stanford (signatory)

This document is an attempt to state the case for and against merger in plain English, and to aid the
process of gathering the views of those most affected by the proposals to merge with IC. This
proposal originated in talks between Derek Roberts (DR) and Richard Sykes (RS), and started only
a few weeks ago. UCL’s provost, within months of taking office for this, the last year of his
association with the college, appears to have agreed with RS’s initiative that, if passed by Council,
would end UCL’s existence (“After half an hour he [RS] said, "Why don't we cut through all this
and explore a merger to create a world-leader? "My [DR] instant reply was positive”).. A press
announcement was made on October 14th, before Council had met. At a meeting of academic board
(AB) on Thursday 18th October, the Academic Board was notified of what DR and RS wished to
do, there was little opportunity for consultation

The search for a new provost was immediately suspended. DR states “Assuming a favourable
decision by the Councils in December, the aim would be to have a unified management structure,
under Sir Richard, in place by October 2003”. If this were to happen, UCL would have lost any say
in the choice of its head.

The college has offered the option to staff of e-mailing comments to the steering group for the
merger ("If you have any comments or questions about the proposals please email
proposedmerger@ucl.ac.uk") and, although we welcome this, we feel that such a move does not
satisfy the need for open discussion. As a result this web site has been started to provide a forum
for the consideration of these issues in a way that has so far been notably absent from either UCL or
IC.

Opinions expressed in UCL over the past two weeks have tended to fall into one of two camps.
Some people concentrate on the pros and cons for their current research. Others tend to argue on
the basis of what universities should be like in the next 100 years. Many people have described
these events as a take-over bid, rather than a merger (see para 9); but whatever they are called they
will, if successful, represent a turning point in the history of the college.


Summary
• Merger would mean that the UK would lose a University that has all departments on one site
• Choice and diversity would be reduced: two different institutions would be replace by one.
• Separation of departments would harm multi-disciplinary research The Committee for UCL (revised 27/11/2002) 2
• Some of the most creative people may not be attracted to work in an enormous corporate
university on two widely separated sites.
• The best US universities are not of the enormous size that would result from merger
• The loss of alumni loyalty (and bequests) could take a generation to repair.

Arguments for a merger
The idea of mergers cannot be dismissed out of hand. Sometimes mergers make sense and, thanks
to the efforts of Derek Roberts and of many others, we have had a lot of them. Further obvious
possibilities exist in the Bloomsbury area. Mergers make sense if one partner is smaller and/or less
successful, and if it wishes to merge, and if it is geographically close. In this case none of these
apply. Both UCL and IC are large, both are successful, neither has shown any wish to merge before
this sudden explosion of activity, and they are far apart (an inconvenient 2-tube line journey).

The only arguments for merger that have been presented so far are the ‘briefing document’
(appended below), DR’s speech to the Academic Board, and on the College web site (most of it not
public). Their merits are best left for the reader to judge.

The gist of the argument appears to be that UCL would be in some sense ‘left behind’ if it does not
merge. However, it is not clear what form this threat would take. Presumably the same people
would carry on with much the same work whether merged or not, and would continue to get grants
as before. Is there any implicit threat that our funds will be reduced if we do not merge? At present
there seems to be no reason to believe that there is. Funds come through the HEFCE funding
council and it is hardly possible to imagine that that their decisions are being formed by UCL's
continued existence as an independent organisation.

If there is indeed a real threat to UCL from not merging then it is certainly the duty of the
proponents of merger to spell it out clearly. This has not been done.

The briefing document refers to the “increasing globalisation of education and research”. The term
globalisation has been used a lot by both the proponents of merger but the meaning of this word
has not been explained in plain English. It presumably does not mean we will have a branch in
every high street like McDonalds, and research has been global (international) for decades now.

There are, no doubt, for certain departments or individuals, advantages to be gained from a close
association with IC (and, indeed, many of us already have made such arrangements and plan to
continue to do so). However our view is that it is very short-sighted to consider the pros and cons
of any merger solely in terms of the immediate advantage for an academic's (or a department's)
own research. We are discussing a much bigger question; the future of UCL, and in some sense
the future of British universities in general

Arguments against a merger

(1) Loss of an all-subject university
UCL was established as a complete university (with the exception of theology), with all
departments on one site. This undoubtedly one reason why we, like other complete universities,
appeal to many staff and to many students. The College provides a breadth of educational
opportunity that cannot be rivalled in any more specialist institution. If any consequence of merger
is completely certain, it is that all departments would not be represented on both sites.
Part of IC might indeed come to Bloomsbury, but when large sections of UCL go to South
Kensington a successful complete university would be severely damaged, if not destroyed. The
geographical argument is important here. It is a matter of simple observation that neither staff nor The Committee for UCL (revised 27/11/2002) 3
students now move much between the two campuses for lectures or seminars; and that will certainly
continue to be the case in a merged institution, whatever pressures are brought to bear.

(2) Loss of diversity and choice
UCL and IC have very different origins and different ethos. Words like ethos are not fashionable in
some circles today, but they are in part what makes many of us work for low pay in central London,
and they are also what make some people want to give money to places such as our own. Although
the terms were dismissed as irrelevant at the Academic Board meeting, others see their value. On
this topic, a recent Nature editorial states

UCL and Imperial College each have distinct identities that inspire strong loyalty among students,
staff and alumni. . . . —these identities are of value, and should not be discarded lightly.
(Nature 419, 763. 2002)

Regardless of such abstract ideas, the effect of a merger would be to replace two rather different
institutions with one. The result would be a reduction of choice for both students and staff. So
much for diversity. Too often, the real world of industry pays lip service to competition but
expends much effort to produce monopolies which, most people agree, are unhealthy. Universities
should not make that mistake. Unless it is proposed to run more courses than the sum of those now
offered in both places already, choice of courses will be reduced too.

(3) Effects on interdisciplinary research
Some argue that merger would increase opportunities for interdisciplinary research, but because
neither site would be a complete university, it is inevitable that many departments that are at present
close to each other will be separated. Thus at least as many opportunities for interdisciplinary
research would be lost as would be gained.

It remains to be seen what division of subjects between sites will be proposed, but one possibility
that has been discussed is that arts and biomedicine will concentrate at UCL and physical sciences,
engineering and maths at Imperial. That will, at the very least, damage two highly inter-disciplinary
programmes at UCL, the bioengineering department, and the CoMPLEX group that promotes
collaboration between mathematicians, physical scientists and biologists (something that attracts
grants). Under the new arrangement the relevan

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