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 Bulletin 1 Nov 4th-18th 2002

UCL Union EGM says “No” to Merger!

On 22nd October 2002, 550 UCL students attended the UCL Union Extraordinary General Meeting with hundreds waiting outside due to overcrowding. Sir Derek Roberts, UCL Provost opened proceedings with a speech about why he believes UCL and Imperial College should merge and then answered questions from the audience. Following a subsequent speech by Mandy Telford, NUS President, the Provost walked out of the meeting and a motion was proposed by Frank Penter, UCL Union Clubs, Societies and Student Development Officer. Following intense debate and discussion, the following motion was overwhelmingly passed by UCL students and now dictates UCL Union policy as such:

To lobby the college to collaborate with the student representatives and to provide them with sufficient information to aid an informed decision.

To oppose the merger until such time as the above has been satisfied.

UCL Union to hold merger referendum

It was also decided that to gage student opinion on the issue and allow every UCL student to have a say in the future of their college, the Union will hold a referendum on Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th November 2002. Further details will follow. The result of the referendum will not actually decide the outcome but will dictate how the Union should campaign and illustrate the strength of feeling either way.

Judgement Day: D-19

At the EGM, Sir Derek stated that he will go ahead with his plans to merge UCL and Imperial College regardless of the opinions held by UCL students and staff. However this by no means makes the merger inevitable. The final decision will be made at UCL College Council, which will take place on December 19th 2002. We therefore only have six weeks to act! This body consists of college management, senior academics and a majority of lay-members who are `independent' of the College. If Council says “YES”, the merger will be completed by October 2003 and the two colleges will combine under the same management. However, to create the proposed `super-university' an Act of Parliament is required and may go through as early as 2005. This is why it is essential that every effort is made to demonstrate to members of UCL Council how we feel and why we are concerned about the consequences of merger.

Ten good reasons to oppose the merger

1. Lack of discussion

The most worrying and widely expressed concern to date has been that there seems to be a headlong rush to push ahead with the merger without proper time for consultation and consideration. Barely any attempt has been made to consult with either UCL staff or the student body. This goes against all UCL's founding principles of democracy and openness. Furthermore, UCL Council (supposedly UCL's governing body) was only informed of the proposal minutes before UCL announced it to the press. Questions are being asked as to who exactly is running UCL, and who is making decisions of such magnitude as this? Also why it is being rushed through with such haste and lack of discussion being avoided if it is supposedly `a good idea'?

2. Imposition of Top-Up Fees

This is very much an issue pertinent to the proposed merger. Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial has admitted that a decision has already been made that he will head the merged institution but he is one of the most outspoken exponents of Top-Up Fees. He wants fees of £10,500 per year to be imposed on students, with Medical and science-based students paying even more. Ominously & not coincidentally only two weeks ago Sykes steam-rollered a decision through Imperial College's ruling Council that means that the college will no longer cap undergraduate fees at £1,100 paving the way for `the market rate' to be imposed on students. After a merger UCL students will also be expected to pay this amount. There is a real concern that the two men who have designed the merger are thinking from a business, not academic perspective (Sykes is ex-head of Glaxo-Smithkline & Roberts used to be managing-director of the General Electric Company). A `university for a wealthy few, dictated by market forces not educational needs' will result.

Derek Roberts

3. Our responsibility to the students nationwide

The whole of the country has its eyes set on UCL and Imperial students and how we will react to this. If the merger goes through and Fees are introduced at UCL/Imperial (which will be `the leading university in the country') other universities will gain the confidence to follow suit and cash-in too.

4. Consequences of leaving University of London

Any merger will mean UCL/Imperial will leave UL. UCL students will therefore lose access to intercollegiate halls of residence, which accounts for about 25% of the student residence accommodation secured by students at UCL. ULU will also be forced to shut down as it will lose about 60% of its income, (that which is generated by UCL and Imperial Unions' membership and student expenditure). All ULU facilities, bars, swimming pool, shops, gym, etc will be lost. Furthermore the majority of UCL Union sports teams may have to be disbanded as BUSA and ULU Leagues close.

5. Erosion of academic diversity

Current variations on course content and teaching methods would disappear in areas where departments are merged. Academic freedom would be compromised under the Private Finance Initiative in place at Imperial in what is essentially the precursor for privatisation, which UCL Union is fundamentally opposed to. In addition the Provost's post-merger `rationalisation' programme may well lead to several `non-profitable' courses and in some cases, even small-departments being scrapped. Management studies show that mergers fail completely or partially in 87% of cases.

6. Loss of identity

UCL has a longstanding and proud reputation for being `the radical alternative' with an open, diverse and progressive thinking community. Indeed UCL's most prominent founder - Jeremy Bentham espoused the view that `we should choose action that will maximise happiness for the greatest number of people', a theory known as utilitarianism. Imperial hold very different values to us, and the UCL ethos will disappear in a merger. The very type of students and academics that UCL has traditionally attracted will no longer flow into Gower Street. Inevitably institutions like SSEES and the Royal Free will lose their important identities and may even be swallowed up or removed all together. Arts, Humanities and non-science based departments will lose importance in the new `science orientated university', having to compete harder for funding. Academic standards will fall and students will suffer.

Merging with Imperial - What would Jeremy say?

7. Students in merged departments will suffer

If past mergers are anything to go by, in science-based departments jobs will be lost, especially in administrative sections meaning that service to students will decline. Students will be split over two sites with many having to travel to and from Bloomsbury and South Kensington to attend lectures (a two-train journey) meaning increased disruption and transport costs.
8. No external representation

Imperial College Students' Union is not a member of the NUS. Students there (for various reasons) feel that they benefit more by remaining outside it but under a merger and consequent abolition of ULU, it will make inclusion in the NUS even more important as they will be our only source of external and collective representation in terms of welfare campaigning. The decision about whether or not we want to remain in the NUS may end up outside UCL students' hands and thus our views will not be represented at a national or regional level in any way.

9. An attack on student democracy

A merged institution will mean we will share our union and its facilities with 8,000 Imperial students. UCL Union is currently run by us. It is a `bottom-up' organisation led by its members and ultimately accountable to Union General Meetings. The law requires 3% of students to attend UGMs for them to be deemed `official and representative'. After a merger we will need over 800 students to attend such meetings for meetings to be official. Apart from the fact that no building in either college can hold this amount of students, our union we will also be split across two major London campuses making it impossible to stage `quorate' General Meetings. What this basically means is that the average student will never again be able to express their opinions directly or have a powerful voice in how their Union is run.

10. Minority groups may lose representation

The composition of students at Imperial College is very different to that which we enjoy at UCL. Imperial students and their student union are our friends and allies in the battle to oppose the merger but UCL Union places much greater emphasis on the importance of student minorities to be sufficiently represented. ICSU has no Anti-racism, Women's, Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual or Students with Disabilities Officers (to name a few) and there are obvious fears that the inevitable restructuring of our combined student union will result in the representation of minority groups being reduced.

Campus Unions announce opposition to merger proposal

Within days of the announcement of the proposed merger, the campus trade unions held emergency meetings to discuss how it will impact on them as academics, administrators and support staff at UCL. The UCL Association of University Teachers (AUT) which represents academic staff, declared their opposition to “the manner in which the proposed merger is currently being introduced, with a headlong rush, no serious consultation and a lack of information and openness”. The Executive Committee also emphasised its “considerable concern that the level of excellence in our teaching and research may be undermined” and that “jobs and conditions of work may be threatened, a situation which will demoralise staff and distract from the good work on which the reputation of UCL is based”. UCL UNISON which represents hundreds of support-staff also publicised its opposition to any merger on the basis that there has been little or no consultation, fear it will create an elitist institution for richer students only, will erode academic diversity and will pave the way for privatisation and lead to job losses. The message seems to be clear that students & staff are united in their concerns over any merger. What we need to do now is articulate our worries and anger into action by any means necessary to ensure that December 19th College Council decides to vote “NO”!

Where Now?

It is important that we start to build a `no' campaign that will be as effective and influential as possible. We need to first raise awareness of the issues among our fellow students & staff so that everyone knows what the consequences of merger will be. A mass-movement needs to be constructed at UCL, combining students, staff and anyone else who are concerned about the future of UCL. Practically we need to target College Council members to encourage them to vote against a merger but also need to be contacting `the world outside UCL' to put as much external influence on them as possible to reach a decision that will be in the interests of us as students, staff and the educational sector as well. Without wishing to sound sensationalist, what happens at UCL will also affect the education of our children and the generation to come.

Three things you can do are: -

Organise meetings in your departments to discuss the issues pertinent to the merger so that everyone is familiar with its consequences.

An Act of Parliament will be needed to   force the creation of the new university.  Write to your MP or any members of the House of Lords to express your concern about the pending merger. Use the arguments in this bulletin as support.

Come to the next UCL Union Action  Committee (working party) to lend your ideas, and help to fight the merger. The meetings are open to ALL UCL students and the Union needs to hear your ideas. See the UCL Union website for details about when meetings will be held.

Dates for your diary

19th-21st November 2002 - UCL Union Question Time:  “Should University College London merge with Imperial College London?”

25th/26th November 2002 - UCL Union Referendum (details will be on website)

4th December 2002 - NUS National Demonstration against Top-Up Fees

19th December 2002 - UCL College Council meet to vote on merger.

Send us your ideas/queries: Pete Huggins, Media & Communications Officer