We, the undersigned students at SPRU, are writing to you in respect of your communication dated 30th May 2012 concerning the decision to move SPRU out of the Freeman Centre and into the New Academic Building (NAB).
We strongly reject and oppose what we consider to be a poorly thought out and opaquely made decision.
Our opposition is based on five key concerns, spelt out below.
1. Disruption to work
Of immediate concern is the significant disruption to our work that this move will cause. As doctoral students we work throughout the summer and so the move will have a direct negative impact on our productivity. Not only are existing work plans jeopardized but due to the extremely short notice and limited information that we have been given, we are unable to plan new timelines in a satisfactory manner.
2. The value of SPRU’s connections to BMEc and CENTRIM
We do not think that a move to strengthen ties with BMEc, at the expense of ties with CENTRIM, will be beneficial for the majority of SPRU’s doctoral student community. SPRU’s students chose to study at SPRU to pursue their interests in science, technology and innovation policy and not to be part of a business school; indeed many find it ludicrous that we should be in the same school at all. The gulf between the research interests of many students at SPRU and activities in the rest of BMEc mean that academically it is doubtful what will be gained by a move to be closer to the core of BMEc. However, it is clear what will be lost: the valuable links with CENTRIM, with whom SPRU’s students’ research interests are more closely aligned and with whom they have many fruitful interactions. We argue that existing inter-departmental channels are sufficient for SPRU and BMEc and that dismantling linkages with CENTRIM will harm the research environment for existing students.
3. The manner in which the decision was made and conveyed to us
A number of factors trouble us about the decision making process: lack of consultation; whimsical treatment of existing agreements/contracts (e.g. with LPS and ESRC-JIF); lack of a clear rationale, or unwillingness to make it clear; disregard for due process; strategic timing of announcement; and scant consideration of the impact on students. We understand that, across the university, we are not alone in these concerns. This has a huge and detrimental effect on student (and staff) morale. In addition, the lack of foresight about the use of NAB, in particular the provision for LPS, leaves us sceptical of the grounds on which the latest decision has been made; specifically, the sustainability of plans to house SPRU and the rest of BMEc under one roof if the business school continues to grow.
4. Potential damage to SPRU’s institutional and intellectual character
The unique character of SPRU is the reason we chose to study here. Attractions include: a strong focus on applied research; inter-disciplinarity; international reputation; extensive interaction between students and research staff; open plan working; and access to resources such as the Keith Pavitt library. It is factors such as these which contribute to SPRU’s success, noted most recently when it was ranked the top science and technology think tank in the UK and which stem, in a large part, from the purposefully built Freeman Centre environment. We fear that while the university is keen to make the most of SPRU’s reputation in public, it systematically undervalues the aforementioned factors which contribute to it. We feel that the way this move is being proposed threatens the intellectual and institutional character of SPRU. A further example of this is the recent suggestion that SPRU research staff and students would be dispersed throughout NAB which would weaken any remnants of a community which was left. We urge the university to think more carefully about the un/intended consequences for research and student life. Finally, while we may be accused of scare-mongering in our predictions for the future, our fears are based on the reality of current university practices which do not appear to value the kind of multi-disciplinary research that SPRU is engaged in.
5. Potential Damage to SPRU’s reputation and recruitment
There is already anecdotal evidence that doctoral students and their sponsors are wary of the seemingly unstable environment SPRU has become. If the above conditions are allowed to continue unchecked the damage to SPRU’s reputation will be lasting, with real consequences for current student’s prospects. What is more, if current trends in decision making processes and the erosion of SPRU’s values continue, we would find ourselves unable to recommend SPRU, or Sussex University in general, to prospective students. This is particularly sad given SPRU and Sussex’s history and the inspiring research staff, both old and new.
Benefits of Reversing Decision
If the university were to reverse its decision it would be of wide ranging benefit. In monetary terms, the £5million (which is probably set to rise) due to be spent on the renovation of the Freeman Centre could be spent on other much needed services for Sussex students. It would be an opportunity to demonstrate how Sussex University values its partnerships with Brighton University through the continued interaction between SPRU and CENTRIM. Finally, the university would be able to demonstrate that they take the concerns of research staff and students, who are the lifeblood of the institute, seriously.
We trust that you will take our concerns seriously and we expect a full and detailed response.