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Fri, Aug. 20th, 2004, 04:13 pm
wye_forever: Arguments

Right, something of a marathon post about to start.
Whilst demonstrating a groundswell of support for Wye is great and quite possibly essential, what we definitely need is thorough, reasoned arguments.
I will get the ball rolling with my own thoughts; feel free to add any of your own, as I am by no means an authority on any of this, especially the research-related reasons.
Some in the petition thread are a fantastic start; this thread gives room for more detailed debates.
I'll take this in sections, feel free to add to the relevant section or even add a new section if you think of a completely different argument.
And of course you are most welcome to present counter-arguments- let's face it, College will do!

Fri, Aug. 20th, 2004 08:54 am (UTC)
wye_forever: Financial

This is the only reason College have explicitly given for the colsure, so we must deal with it first.

Yes, Wye is losing money. we don't deny that. Imperial knew this when they merged.
They were not willing to accept Wye's loss-making status indefinitely, but they gave precise targets as to how quickly they should cut their losses. As far as can be seen, both from sources in Wye and the Rector's presentation in April, all such targets have been met.
I am reliably informed that the original plan meant Wye would be breaking even by 2009; and yet a new Deputy Rector has come in and declared that because it is not breaking even now, in HALF the agreed time, that's it, the department must close.

Furthermore, the figures are quite meaningless. what is included in the figure of £1.8 million? Is it just for academic activities, or is it for campus upkeep as well?
And if any costs of campus upkeep are included, is the loss offset against the income from the conference centre?
And do they really think that the profitable CEAS (Centre for European Agri-Environmental studies) conferences, or the rental income from such bodies as English Nature, are not dependant on the presence of a world-class academic centre in related subjects?

If it is for academic activities only, also bear in mind that Undergraduate science (and engineering and medicine) courses make a loss everywhere, as argued repeatedly by the rector in support of higher student fees. Are we to believe, then, that AgSci would be the only Imperial College Department ever to have made a loss and not been immediately shut down? Even if this is the case, there is a speial argument as outlined above. If not, either this is an incredible double-standard, or the first step towards removing ever more study from Imperial in the pursuit of ever greater profit margins.

With losses on Undergraduates throughout college, and net deficits throughout at least the Faculty of Life Sciences, the complete closure of entire departments cannot be a sustainable solution (if Imperial is to remain as an academic institution and not just a conferencing firm).

As for longer-term targets, Wye is heading towards breaking even. Imperial has sustained over half of the losses it can expect to sustain, and yet wants to pull out now.
Numbers have hit their lowest and are now recovering; the last big pre-merger year left last year, leaving us with the smallest year (from when Imperial left us out of their prospectus- hardly Wye's fault and hardly an intrinsic problem with Agricultural disciplines...)
So whilst new intake has been rising ever since that first post-merger year, total numbers are only beginning to rise now. And as numbers rise, unit cost falls so whilst undergraduates are loss-making college-wide right now, the figures would be comparable to the London-based courses, if not lower where London-weighted costs could be avoided.
whilst elsewhere this is offset to a greater extent by research income, this is also recovering, as the department recovers from its GM-related losses and moves into other emerging markets such as sustainable or organic agriculture.

Of course the Business management course loses less, it's a non-lab-based course! Do we see the Rector deciding the College should pull out of Medicine and use those facilities to teach Media Studies, following the same argument?
No. That's precisely what he refused to do in the fees dedbate; he'd rather keep the quality of teaching than follow profit motives. Except in Wye, apparently, in spite of his assertions to the contarty in April.

Please feel free to add to this; for now I will move on to the next area.

Fri, Aug. 20th, 2004 09:08 am (UTC)
wye_forever: Research

Whilst not explicitly given as a reason for the closure, that "4" rating has been mentionned and is clearly a consideration.
However, this rating is purely because Imperial's department structure puts all research from Wye together; within that there are some 5* sections, higher than a fair few South Kensington sections, so closing the whole lot would be ridiculous; far better to build on those strengths (to eventually replace the weakest areas) than to destroy the lot.

And ratings aside, there is work of national importance going on, as shown by the commissions for National surveys, and Government consultancies.

Environmental concerns, sustainable agriculture, organic farming, biocontrol, rural and overseas development are all emerging and growing areas (even "horseyculture" is a large and still-growing field).

The rector himself praised research at wye, for its "real applications2 and "inter-disciplinary work."

To close a leading department in an emerging field is senseless, even if there will be an increasingly-short-term initial financial loss.

Please add more, being a taught student I know less of the detail on the research side, but here again the rector assured us in April that all targets were being met and exceeded.

Fri, Aug. 20th, 2004 09:36 am (UTC)
wye_forever: Students at Wye.

Regarding the Student Experience, the petition thread speaks for itself.
However, we don't expect Imperial to be interested in just giving us three years of a fantastically good time. They want to produce good-quality, employable graduates. And that's what Wye has always done.

The college's statement speaks of a new "strategic focus" on Environmental Sicence; yet not to base it atthe campus with the large rural estate, some long-running field experiments, AONB/SSSI holdings, NNR on the doorstep and it's own new nature reserve, and officdes of several national conservation bodies on site! (This also applies to research).
A "strategic focus," a "steering board," a "think-tank" is never any kind of substitute for active research and the unique expertise that goes with it, or producing graduates with specialist knowledge in that field.

Instead, they plan to teach Business Management, at the one campus not based in the city that is Britain's Commercial Capital.
That is not to say that Wye's business course is not worthwhile, but its value lies in the fact that it is applied, in a way that is reliant on the supporting expertise in all the fields currently based at the campus.

The planned course location is senseless not ojnly in terms of facilities, but in terms of student preferences. The rector himself said that students will always have the preferences for a rural or urban environment; so will each group be more likely to follow a career in business or an environmental field?

Standards-wise, Imperial has the top Agricultural Sciences department in the country; that cannot be said about all South Kensington departments.
And the latest results must be as good as plenty of other departments, plenty of 1sts and 2:1s, a criterion that drags the rest of Imperial down the league tables.
So lately some students have been taken on lower grades than elsewhere, but this is increasing; and if the end grades are as good, the entry grades are less relevant, Wye always put out top graduates even when entry grades were low enough to fill the campus to bursting-point with agric students.

Numbers have recovered more slowly in science courses than the AppBM course, but this can largely (if not wholly) be attributed to publicity factors: not least that most potential agricultural/environmental/equine students (in Briatain and Worldwide) would still look under "W" rather than "I" and so not find the courses; whereas potential business students are more likely to expect to be studying in London and so look under Imperial.
Steps have been taken to remedy all this; it would be tragic to shut the course just as all these efforts will begin to pay off.

College's statement says they wish only to invest in "top-class" facilities and people.* As an internationally-renowned institution, Wye is full of those.

*The statement actually said College is looking to invest only in top-class "staff and facilities;" hence presumably they have no interest at all in investing in students of any calibre.

Thu, Sep. 16th, 2004 06:55 am (UTC)
wye_forever: Structure

Recent mutterings from around the Blue Cube (IC HQ) suggest that Imperial have decided to restructure Life Sciences courses so students can "mix and match" modules to make their chosen course, all within one department, which would be unworkable split between campuses.
Surely what they mean is to make Biology and Biochemistry start acting like the single department they are; why does that necessitate closing the department that has already managed this?
Whilst Medicine works with research divisions rather than all-emcompassing departments, Engineering and PhySci work with a departmental structure. Any differences in performance between Life Sci and Medicine as opposed to Life Sci and Phys Sci are due to subject nature and faculty size as much as anything structural. With medicine, all undergraduates are after the same degree, but why is this any more true of Biology than Physics?
Granted, a Faculty of three departments alongside one with 9 is not too likely to be working at the same organisational level; but Medicine is also far bigger than Life Sciences.
At the end of the day, the only sensible solution involves merging Life Sciences with somethnig else- a step towards this would be the addition of Biomedical Sciences, but with all sorts of messy imlpications for ICSM, including the need to hire back teaching staff, thus balancing LifeSci's books but not helping the college overall- and if Bio-biochem becomes a group (department, division, whatever else you care to call it), there's no structural reason why Agricultural Sciences could not do likewise.