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Challenge for university as Glasgow slims down to step up

Some of the oldest faculties at Glasgow University could be merged or renamed under proposals for the biggest reform of the institution for decades.

Professor Anton Muscatelli, the university’s new principal, has put forward plans for a major restructuring, which will see Glasgow’s nine academic faculties replaced by four over-arching colleges.

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The number of academic departments will also be reduced from the current total of 45 to a maximum of 25 schools.

If the proposals are accepted, they will impact on all faculties, including the Faculty of Medicine, set up in 1714, the Science Faculty, established in 1893, and the Arts Faculty, which dates back to the early days of the university, founded in 1451.

The new structure would see the establishment of a College of Arts, College of Biomedicine, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences and College of Law, Business, Social Sciences and Education.

The university, which put the proposals to its ruling court yesterday, stressed the changes were not as a result of financial pressures and said they would not impact on jobs.

A paper prepared for the meeting of court stressed the importance of streamlining the university management to ensure money was being spent on improving the university’s performance.

The paper states: “The university has ambitions to be in the world’s top 50 universities and to achieve this we need to make a step-change in some areas of activity.

“Compared to those universities currently in the world’s top 50 we have relatively poor international and postgraduate student numbers, our research is not published consistently in journals ... and our research capability is not regarded as highly by our peers.

“This paper proposes a restructuring of faculties and departments as part of the next phase of the university’s actions to reach its ambitions.”

The paper, which was approved in principle by the university court, said one reason for change was the global economic downturn and the squeeze on public finances.

As a result, research money is increasingly being allocated to projects likely to show economic benefit, particularly where academics from different departments and institutions work together.

“The university has excellent, committed staff covering a breadth of academic discipline that cannot be matched by many UK peers,” the paper states.

“Such breadth enables us to create cross-disciplinary teams able to tackle the priorities of UK governments and funders of research.

“In order to meet these challenges and exploit the opportunities outlined we must develop structures that are nimble, facilitate the creation of cross-disciplinary teams and have financial flexibility.”

The changes will also reduce the size of the senior management team, removing the “current perceived them-and-us culture between deans and the senior managers”, the paper states.

Last night, the proposals were given a cautious welcome by unions representing academics.

Bill Stewart, vice-president of the university branch of UCU Scotland, said: “We will have to look at the detail of the proposals and there could be some concerns about departments disappearing in name and whether that leads to a loss of identity or a downgrading of what is taught.

“However, there is scope for improving the way the organisation is run and the way the decision-making process works.

“We are reassured that this is not being done for financial reasons and that there are no implications for job losses.”

The proposed timescale for introducing the new structures will see a staff consultation between now and November, before a final paper is presented to the December meeting of court.

If approval is given, Glasgow University will advertise for the new college heads in January and begin the process of appointing heads of school.

Appointments would be approved in June before the structure is established in August in time for the next academic year.

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