Visions of a 'Scottish MIT'

19th June 2009 at 01:00
Strathclyde University U-turn sounds death knell for 88-year-old Jordanhill education faculty

More than 80 years of tradition in Scottish education is set to be swept away with the decision by Strathclyde University to break up its Jordanhill education faculty and merge it with other disciplines.

Symbolically, teacher education will no longer take place in a pound;50 million purpose-built "Jordanhill building" in Strathclyde's main city centre campus. These plans, agreed in 2006, have been abandoned and education will instead be scattered throughout two or more existing university buildings, after it is combined with the faculty of law, arts and social sciences.

Although Jill Bourne, dean of the education faculty, has given the proposals her support, the prospect of Jordanhill effectively disappearing is said to have caused dismay and unrest among staff, who are concerned at the potential threat to initial teacher education.

The university's U-turn is thought to have resulted partly from having to cut costs, leading to the jobs of 150 staff being on the line, and partly from the difficulty of selling Jordanhill's 40-acre site during a recession - even in the prime location of Glasgow's west end.

These developments have been reinforced by the arrival of a new principal, Jim McDonald, whose background is in engineering and who has made no secret of his enthusiasm to turn Strathclyde into a "Scottish MIT", emulating the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At its May 8 meeting, Strathclyde University court, its ruling body, endorsed this vision, which he said "explicitly and strategically integrates science, engineering and technology with business, humanities, arts and social sciences".

The merged departments involving education will develop a portfolio that will be "vibrant, sustainable, efficient and effective", Professor McDonald has pledged.

The principal outlined these new plans to what was said to be a "shocked" staff at Jordanhill around a month ago. He sounded the death knell for a new building when he declared that there had to be a 40 per cent reduction in the overall size of the university because "our estate is too large in relation to our income".

Another factor in Professor McDonald's calculation could have been the relatively poor showing of Strathclyde's education faculty in this year's research assessment exercise (RAE) of university performance, which determines funding allocations. The university suffered a 27 per cent drop in its educational research funding, although it later claimed the assessment was now two years out of date and research activity had stepped up a gear (TESS April 17).

Jordanhill opened in September 1921 in what the then Scottish Education Department described as "one of the most spacious and commodious buildings of its kind in the world".

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