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Fears for jobs as science staff are forced to merge.

Byline: ANUJI VARMA

Staff at two top research facilities at the University of Warwick were being told this week whether their jobs were under threat following a controversial plan to merge the two departments.

Up to 32 jobs could be axed at Warwick HRI, formerly the Horticulture Research Institute, and the Biological Sciences department, with the remainder of academic staff being transferred to a new School of Life Sciences on the main campus from 2012.

The HRI laboratory was ranked the UK's top university department for agriculture, veterinary and food science in the 2008 research assessment exercise by the Higher Education Funding Council. It is renowned for investigating crop science, horticulture and food security.

But this week staff at both facilities were being told whether their role was being made redundant.

Out of a pool of 83 employees from the two departments, only 51 will go onto work at the new School of Life Sciences centre.

The move has attracted outrage from the scientific community and union Prospect, which is representing staff, who believe that a smaller staffed centre would provide a lower quality department.

Former farming minister Jane Kennedy and Kenilworth and Southam Conservative candidate Jeremy Wright have both written to the vicechancellor Nigel Thrift raising concerns.

Mr Wright warned that the new School of Life Sciences would not be up to a high standard.

He said: "This will result in a second-class, run-of-the-mill department focussed on teaching, which is not a successful model for the research ethics framework." He added: "In spite of global recognition of the importance of this research in the 21st century, the University of Warwick is moving backwards - much to the amazement of many inside and outside the university.

This will retard Warwick's strategy to be within the top 50 global universities by 2015."

Warwick HRI currently employs about 36 academic staff at principal investigator level, together with 175 research and support staff, plus PhD and Msc students. It receives guaranteed funding of pounds 5 million per year from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is set to fall to pounds 200,000 by 2012.

Dave Chandler, Principal Investigator and Prospect representative at Warwick HRI, said: "We are at the start of a global food and environmental crisis and the UK needs experienced agricultural scientists more than ever if we are to deliver on Government commitments on food security. However the agricultural research base in this country is on its last legs."

However university spokesman Peter Dunn said that there was no danger of standards slipping in the new centre.

He said: "Staff are being told this week whether their job is one of those at risk. It would be unfair to identify exactly which departments within the facility are affected as that would identify the staff.

"However I can confirm that we are looking at a pool of 83 people across the two facilities. That pool will be reduced to 51 academic staff who will go onto work at the new centre.

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Up to 32 jobs are under threat at University of Warwick's HRI and Biological Sciences departments
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 22, 2010
Words:520
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