Monday, 26 September 2011

University Mergers Aren't A Bad Idea

Abertay University  Students

Last week at First Minister's questions in the Scottish Parliament the leader of the Scottish Labour MSP group, Iain Gray, accused the First Minister of closing Scottish universities.  Such a pity Iain Gray over-egged the pudding because if he had mentioned 'mergers' then he would have been taken seriously, but a merger is certainly not a closure and the public know that.

Within hours of FMQs letters from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) were received by the University of Dundee and Abertay University, Dundee, asking - or ordering - the two institutions to initiate discussions about a merger.  Those of you who are regular readers will know Dundee University has a long history of excellence and Abertay University grew from the national reputation of Bell Street Tech (college) being one of the best technical colleges in Scotland.

It's reported the SFC handled the situation badly as their communication was a 'surprise' from both establishments, yet recently Abertay received a letter from them requesting a suspension of the appointment for a new principal now that the suspended principal has resigned.

If the Courier is to be believed 'Abertay has carved out a highly distinctive and successful role for itself within both Scottish and UK higher education'.  That may be so in two areas, environmental science and computer gaming.  Surely excellence is these two subjects isn't enough for the taxpayer to contribute to the running of a university?

A wee quote from the Courier and a Labour politican:

Labour MSP Jenny Marra, a former head of communications at Dundee University, fears Abertay's unique identity would be subsumed by the larger institution should a merger take place.

"It is my understanding that this letter was written by the SFC at the direct order of Education Secretary Mike Russell. The manner in which Mike Russell has gone about this is despicable.
"(He) should have more respect for the autonomy of universities than to dictate to them in this manner."

It's well known, and was confirmed by the person speaking on behalf of Abertay on STV on Friday, that many of the courses Abertay provide are similar to those provided by Dundee.  If I recall his words: 'We don't do these courses their [Dundee University's] way and we offer a chance for people who normally wouldn't be allowed to get to Uni'.

Why are they so upset to merge with Dundee University with its higher standards?  Surely, if the University of Dundee mergers with Abertay then standards in the common courses they provide would improve?

Knowing a couple of people who were asked to lecture in non environmental sciences or computer gaming, Abertay has serious problems with regard to student attendances.  Both these people found their credentials were not fully examined prior to being employed on a part-time temporary basis and one found, out of a class of 18, only two students attended lectures, even after his plea throughout the building and outside pavements for students to attend.  Is it any wonder the lecturers who temporarily replaced their colleagues decided, when requested to be 'visiting' lecturers, declined.

It would be good for Dundee to have one university with a world-wide reputation for excellence.  That would eventually rid Abertay of its reputation for being a second-rate centre of further education.

I hope they grasp the opportunity with both hands, although I realise there will be redundancies which will affect those who have worked hard to improve the standards of Abertay.  For these folk I feel sympathy; the those who thought they could build upon the reputation of the Bell Street Tech - and there are many - by building their own empire, I have nothing but disdain.

As for future mergers I believe, with careful assessment, there are quite a few small universities which would benefit from belonging to one of the 'big boys'.  After all the renowned institutions have nothing to lose other than their reputation for not being able to vastly improve courses from the less effective.  In the hands of the University of Dundee, Abertay, as a branch, would obviously continue to excel in their two specialities.  Dundee University, in order to maintain their reputation, couldn't afford to let these dissipate.


RMcGeddon said...

I doubt if the SNP's Tayside candidates would have done so well in the elections if they had revealed their plan to close Abertay with the loss of 700 jobs.
Dundee being downgraded to a city like Stirling is sad.
I'm just waiting for their announcement to open the biomass plant on the waterfront ( burning old wardrobes and wood from all over the world to save the planet). That was put on the backburner as well pre election.

BrianSJ said...
and many like it. Higher Education needs a huge shift, and state run administrations with high overheads are part of the problem.

This might be part of the solution

subrosa said...

It won't close RM. I'm sure just the name and some courses will change. There will be a loss of admin staff but it's common knowledge there are far too many.

I don't see it as a downgrade in the least. Abertay doesn't have a good reputation for many of its other courses. Being part of Dundee may just improve that.

subrosa said...

Thanks for these links Brian. Yes I agree with you about a needing a shift. Abertay should never have been formed. The old tech should have been left to encourage people to do short/medium/long vocational courses instead of trying to mimic the elite institutions.

I hope when it happens that Dundee will use Abertay for the provision of evening classes and part-time day courses, thus allowing folk to work while they study.

pa_broon74 said...

I think most folk accept that changes need to be made to universities and how they are funded and managed. There will be those with a vested interest who'll oppose any and all changes regardless of efficacy and it's unfortunate for those who may lose their jobs.

Beyond that, labour MSP comments from Iain Grey and Jenny Marra etc are merely parroting another scare story that they hope will get some knee jerk support. (See CPPR fiasco on business rates, two of its authors are former Labour FM advisors.)

I imagine most people would accept that a merger is much better than a closure though.

Demetrius said...

Just an idea, Balliol College Oxford merging with Hugh Baird College Bootle.

Hamish said...

Excellent article, subrosa. It's not often I agree with you 100%, but on this occasion I do.
Scotland has a long record of providing free education for all.
I am proud that the current Scottish Government is upholding that tradition.
But not everyone has the aptitude or ability to go on from secondary education into tertiary education (I believe "tertiary" is the neutral term between "higher" and "further" education).
At one time, Scotland had four universities to England's two.
Heaven forfend that we should try to maintain that ratio.
In fact I think we could still do fine with just four or five. Assuming of course that Dundee takes over St Andrews.

subrosa said...

I think most folk think the quality of a university education has decreased to such a level that having a degree is neither here nor there these days pa_broon.

subrosa said...

I'd no idea there was such an institution Demetrius, but I see it's the equivalent of a tech.

subrosa said...

Jings Hamish, I was fairly overcome with your compliment.

I would accept your definition although I prefer the further to mean part-time study whereas higher to mean full-time study. That's possibly an age thing.

Again I have to agree with you. Glasgow, Strathclyde, Edinburgh, Aberdeen - but I can't see Dundee taking over St Andrews. Don't forget it's not so long ago Dundee was a 'branch' of St Andrews.

Related Posts with Thumbnails