A merger between Edinburgh's two oldest academic institutions has made sense for many years, but the proposal announced this week by the principals of Edinburgh University and Moray House Institute owes as much to financial pragmatism as to scholarly opportunity. Moray House has overcome its immediate financial problems, although not without imposing charges which are upsetting the student body. But the long-term financial outlook for monotech institutions is not rosy. That has been well signalled by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council which while not dictating mergers is happy to bless them.
That said, Moray House has not been forced into seeking a partner in the way that Jordanhill was. There, a combination of rejection by Glasgow University and a growing financial problem led to hasty embrace within Strathclyde University. The outcome appears happy but that owes more to the work that went on after a merger was announced than to detailed consideration beforehand.
Neither of the two Edinburgh institutions is likely to reject their principals' lead. The university stands to gain by increasing its undergraduate numbers, by complementing its own research strength (symbolised in the new Institute for the Study of Education and Society) with the school-oriented work of Moray House, and by contributing to teachers' professional development, especially through higher degrees. Moray House, having increased its own research efforts, will benefit not just from the university's education staff but from those in other disciplines. It will also gain access to and credibility from a university with international standing.
There is a spurned partner to the tale, as there was in the Glasgow amalgamation. Heriot-Watt University has had six years' association with Moray House, accrediting its degrees and helping establish its research and professorial structure. There was a hope that Moray House would leave its cramped city-centre site and move in with Heriot-Watt at Riccarton. That option having been rejected two years ago, the prompt to closer ties was lost.
Academically, it makes more sense for Moray House to go in with Edinburgh, but Heriot-Watt can justifiably feel sore. It is a middle-sized institution that needs to develop its academic base. Will it now look to Queen Margaret College?