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UCL civils resist proposed merger with Imperial College

UNIVERSITY COLLEGE London's civil engineering department has this week expressed strong opposition to a proposed merger with Imperial College.

University College London (UCL) head of civil engineering Jim Croll warned that combining the two departments could result in a fall in total civils student numbers at the new college.

Talks about merging the two colleges started last week.

Imperial College rector Sir Richard Sykes sees a merger as a way of creating a 'truly world class research-based institution with the resources to compete with the best in the world.'

Both colleges scored high marks in the most recent assessment of research quality.

Croll fears that a department coping with up to 150 a year would be unable to give individual students enough attention.

Typically UCL has between 60 and 65 students in any one year.

The larger department at Imperial has between 80 and 90.

'We are being slightly railroaded at UCL, ' said Croll. 'This merger is all research led and one major casualty could be the students.

'Direct discussion between the two departments is just beginning, but we have grave reservations that a merged department would attract the same amount of students as the two colleges attract individually, ' Croll added.

He also fears that a merger would result in research staff cuts, an outcome that is accepted by Imperial College.

'Staff rationalisation is possible, ' said Imperial head of civil engineering David Nethercot. 'But the driving force is ambition, the creation of something better than we have now. And any university's best asset is its people.'

The two colleges are also at odds over student fees. Last week Imperial College made it clear that it would like to increase student fees to meet a funding shortfall. 'We know that we lose around £,2,800 per year for every student we teach, ' said Imperial College strategy development and communications director Chris Towler.

The government is due to publish a white paper on student fees early next month. New education secretary Charles Clarke has hinted that it will include a proposal for universities to increase tuition fees above the current £1,100 maximum.

'Fees are something that is under discussion, but I am sure that Imperial College will want to charge an economical fee, ' said Nethercot.

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