'Hostile' bid for Moray House

The principal of Moray House Institute has reacted dismissively to a "hostile act" by Heriot-Watt University in seeking to become a partner in the merger talks Moray House is having with Edinburgh University.

Gordon Kirk said that the initiative by John Archer, the new principal of Heriot-Watt, came after six years in which the institute of education had "run up against a series of grievances which Heriot-Watt proved incapable of resolving. So we have no intention now of engaging in tripartite talks. "

Professor Archer told the annual meeting of the university's general convocation that Heriot-Watt could yet become an active partner in the discussions to the benefit of all three institutions and especially Moray House students.

He said: "Although we have played little direct role in the teacher training programmes at Moray House, we have fostered the programmes in technology and also the sport and leisure programmes at the Cramond campus, which formed the Dunfermline College before its own merger with Moray House. We would be horrified to see something we have all worked on for many years being discarded."

But Professor Kirk said that Heriot-Watt's involvement at Cramond amounted to no more than 100 hours' teaching a year. "They are attempting to get by annexation what we at Moray House have spent years developing."

He said that Professor Archer's initiative contrasted with a statement by Peter Wilson, Heriot-Watt secretary, who had told him that "Moray House should seek its future elsewhere". A letter on Tuesday from Peter Stillwell, chairman of the Moray House board, to Professor Archer stated that Moray House would never agree to "dismemberment": all courses, including those at the Cramond campus, would become the responsibility of Edinburgh University.

The announcement last October that Professor Kirk and Sir Stewart Sutherland, Edinburgh's principal, were embarking on talks took Heriot-Watt by surprise. The move was regarded by Heriot-Watt as effectively a fait accompli received "more in sorrow than anger", and Professor Archer this week said that it had come "as a shock and a matter of great regret to the university". But he added that the merger was still only a proposal.

Professor Kirk said that the talks with Edinburgh University were going well. A spokeswoman for Edinburgh said both sides were now focusing on the details of the proposed merger, which is scheduled for submission to the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council in the summer. She doubted if there was scope for a third party to the talks "at this relatively advanced stage".

A combined institution would be among the largest universities in the UK with more than 17,000 full-time and about 3,500 part-time students. Financially Moray House could do with the university's support. Its grant for next year from the funding council of Pounds 7.4 million represents a cut of 5.3 per cent, the third reduction in a row.

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