The newspaper of Imperial College London
 Issue 122, 23 October 2002
Merger talks forge ahead«
Drug could cut heart attacks and strokes by a third«
China and Europe in space pre-nuptials…«
Goldsmiths' Wing reopens«
Faculty of physical sciences inauguration«
Graduate School of Engineering and Physical Sciences«
Facing new challenges«
Silwood safe, and healthy«
Soul boy makes the money market sing«
In Brief«
Media spotlight«
What's on«

Merger talks forge ahead

Sir Richard Sykes, rector, discusses the latest merger talks between Imperial College London and University College London.

"If all goes well, we will know before Christmas whether our two institutions will come together to form the country's largest university, with a turnover of over £800m, some 6,000 academic and research staff, and 28,000 students.

Does size matter? Yes, in some important ways. The business of a 21st century university remains, as it always has been, teaching and research. We prepare students for the world of work and look for answers to the world's most challenging problems. Yet what worked well up to the late 20th century will not suffice to crack some of the most difficult challenges. Large, well funded and multi-skilled teams are needed. We want to find cures for diseases, alternative sources of energy for the world when the oil runs out, ways of combating global warming and predicting and dealing with the environmental, economic and social consequences if we are too late. The initial solutions to all these problems, if they are to be found, will come mainly from the world's great universities. Only here are the people with the credentials necessary to tackle these increasingly complex problems. The academic resources needed to solve particular problems are no longer confined to single traditional disciplines of, say, physics, chemistry, medicine, economics, or history. Large multi-disciplinary teams are needed with a wide range of expertise.

Super university
This country has many excellent universities, each different and each with its own history, culture and distinctive purpose. But we don't have a super-university capable of competing successfully in the world premier league and tackling the world's biggest problems. Unless we harness our resources together, we risk dropping out of the premier league. Would this matter? I think so; not just for Imperial College and UCL thinking of merger but for us all. Our students receive a distinctive education in a research intensive environment. In a broader institution not only will they have more choice but they will also be challenged and be excited by more of the best brains and the most difficult topics. The country needs increasing numbers of graduates with this experience and capability. Companies, the city and the public sector need to have in post those who know how to take advantage of the advances coming out of our universities. Developing new technologies or new public policies in a university will be sterile unless applied outside. Joining the two institutions together will increase the resources available to convert the results of our research into useful purpose.

Successive government have under-funded universities for years. Buildings are in disrepair and pay is abysmal. We need the very brightest people to work on the world's most difficult problems. How many will continue to be prepared to do so, especially in expensive parts of the country, for the prospect of £30,000 a year after 10 or more years of post-school education? Universities must be properly paid for the work they do. This means that government has to pay for the full cost of the research they sponsor. It also means that, at some point, we need to charge the full cost of the education our students receive. At present, Imperial loses about £2,800 per student after taking account of our government grant and student fee. We want to maintain our quality and standard of education. Those who graduate from Imperial are very well qualified and can obtain excellent and well paid jobs.

Maintain standards
In a mass higher education system, no government is going to fund us, or similar universities, at the level needed to maintain our standards. It is right that those students who can afford to contribute to their education do so. We will never select students on the basis of their ability to pay - only on their ability to benefit from our courses. Should the government relax the restrictions on charging full fees at some time in the future, we will expect to do so - gradually at first and with full scholarships for those who need them. Only by charging full costs for research and teaching can we guarantee to have the resources necessary to maintain our academic quality, attract the best staff and students from around the world and generate and transfer knowledge. By so doing, we will create wealth and health in our knowledge led world."

  • On Friday last week, Council agreed, should the government see fit, to remove the restriction on the level of fees charged to Home/EU students.
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