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Cambridge board votes to save architecture school

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The University of Cambridge has made a last-minute decision to save its department of architecture.

Earlier this afternoon (Wednesday 12 January) the university's General Board unanimously accepted a new academic strategy for the department, which will see it focus its research on sustainable design.

The loss-making school was controversially earmarked for closure back in October - a move that led to a heated backlash from students and staff.

Following today's decision, the beleaguered department will make a number of new academic appointments. The first two are expected to be a new professor and a new university lecturer in the field of sustainable design, and more are likely in the months to come.

Further shake-ups will also lead to the departure of six of the 17 academic staff currently working within the department. In addition, the university is considering bringing the research and teaching activities under one roof.

The university hopes the new strategy will address the long-standing concerns about the department's research profile, which had originally led to the prospect of closure.

'I am delighted that we have reached this decision today and I congratulate both the school and the department on this outcome,'

said an overjoyed Professor Alison Richard, vice-chancellor of the university.

'Architecture is among a small number of disciplines in the university where practice plays an integral role in teaching and research. There have been long-standing concerns that the department's widely heralded excellence in teaching and practice was not matched in research.

'I am confident that the new strategy, building upon existing strengths, the radical restructuring accomplished in recent weeks, and commitments by the school and the university, will enable the department to excel in every respect,' she added.

Professor Roger Parker, chairman of the Council of the School of Arts and Humanities, agreed. 'We regard the closure of any department as a very grave step,' he said. 'So it is particularly pleasing that we have been able to overcome the difficulties and reach a positive solution - one that will enable architecture to become a leader in research as it already is in teaching.'

The future of the department was originally thrown into doubt back in January 2004 following two university reports, in 2001 and 2003, which reinforced concerns about the department's research profile. A working party was formed and developed a plan to strengthen the department.

But in October, following a progress review, a disappointed working party recommended the School of Arts and Humanities considered the department's future.

by Richard Waite

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