University of Warwick senate backs controversial plans to absorb Wellesbourne into a school for life sciences

Industry anger at plans by the University of Warwick to absorb Warwick HRI Wellesbourne into a school for life sciences turned to exasperation this week as the university's senate approved the latest proposals.

The draft proposal for the implementation of the new school put before the University senate meeting on Monday states that the only viable option for co-location of Warwick HRI and the university's biological sciences department was the main Warwick campus and that research activity based at Wellesbourne would be transferred "as soon as is practical".

Industry leaders were in little doubt that this could spell the loss of the bulk of near-market applied horticultural R&D activity.

Neil Bragg, chair of the Horticultural Development Company - one of the main funders of R&D at Wellesbourne - said he was "absolutely disgusted" at the way the situation had been handled by the university. Hastily written letters from leading industry figures, who were given just three days by interim chairman of the new school Professor Stuart Palmer to comment before the senate hearing, had gone unacknowledged, said Bragg.

"This has been a well-planned move by the University of Warwick, which has a total disregard for stakeholders."

The proposal document which says nothing in its 33 pages about the ongoing R&D needs of the horticulture industry, makes it clear that research that receives a high score in academic journals will be prioritised in decisions over which areas will be cut - automatically threatening more commercially oriented near-market R&D.

The document says the biological sciences department and Warwick HRI will have a consolidated planned deficit in 2009/10 of £1.8m and significant "restructuring of the cost base" is required.

Responding to Monday's decision by the senate to approve the proposals, HTA director general David Gwyther asked whether the university had consulted the Technology Strategy Board, "which has £75m to spend over the next five years and might have done something to fill the gap left by Defra's withdrawal of funding?"

He added: "How many more research resources - human and facilities - must close before those who are talking about these issues eventually take some real action."

Processors & Growers Research Organisation technical director Anthony Biddle, who said the body had worked hard with others to try and save HRI Kirton from closure last year, was now "extremely concerned" that the latest plan "may seriously reduce applied research being done by Warwick HRI".

British Protected Ornamentals Association (BPOA) chairman Sarah Fairhurst said: "I am extremely disappointed by the consultation timescale and the way it has been handled. It reinforces the need for industry to fully support HW's Save Our Science campaign. The BPOA has responded to the consultation and will continue to press for a fuller consultation with a reasonable time frame."

The full proposal can be viewed online on Warwick's Life Sciences pages.


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