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Moray House denies U-turn

'Survival is not a laudable aspiration. I am paid to make my institution flourish'.

The proposed merger with Edinburgh University will strengthen Moray House Institute academically and financially, Gordon Kirk, Moray House's principal, said on Wednesday.

Professor Kirk denied that cuts in the funding of colleges of education lay behind the plan he has put forward with Sir Stewart Sutherland, principal of the university.

Despite a "hostile" financial climate for monotechs Moray House was budgeting for a surplus this year. He added: "But survival is not a laudable aspiration. I am paid to make my institution flourish. We are not looking for Edinburgh University to rescue us."

Professor Kirk said that the planned merger was different from that between Jordanhill College and Strathclyde University which had resulted from Jordanhill's financial problems and the rejection of a proposed link with Glasgow University.

The Edinburgh plan has been drawn up by the two principals alone. The governing bodies of the university and institute still have to give their approval, and the staff of both institutions are now being consulted. The title "Moray House Institute of Education" will be retained as the main base for an education faculty and staff will retain professorial and other titles.

The Scottish Office Education and Industry Department, which is responsible for teacher training, knew of the plan and is understood to support it. The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council was also told and application will be made for a grant under its strategic change initiative which encourages mergers proposed by institutions.

The loser is Heriot-Watt University, of which Moray House has been an associated college since 1990. Charles Brown, Heriot-Watt's vice-principal, told The TES Scotland "more in sorrow than in anger" that the move flew in the face of planned developments.

Moray House had been negotiating greater academic autonomy and Heriot-Watt was preparing to validate the institute as a whole rather than course by course. Complete absorption within Edinburgh University would be an about-turn. Professor Brown said that a new partner might now be sought. But he added that Heriot-Watt had a sound future concentrating on its main strengths in science, technology and business.

Professor Kirk acknowledged that Heriot-Watt would be disappointed. One reason for a change of direction was the decision two years ago to develop the city-centre and Cramond campuses rather than move to a greenfield site beside Heriot-Watt.

Sir Stewart said that not only was a strong education research centre being formed but that schoolteachers seeking professional development, especially through higher degrees, would gain from access to university resources. He hoped that the idea of fellowships for teachers might be revived.

The combined institution would be among the largest universities in the United Kingdom with more than 17,000 full-time and about 3,500 part-time students. Heriot-Watt has over 5,000 students and two associated colleges, Edinburgh College of Art and the Galashiels-based College of Textiles.

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