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Research funding endangered by MEDIC Forward

One of the British Heart Foundation’s “leading lights” has been targeted for disinvestment, Gair Rhydd can reveal. Professor Alan Williams and his parent department, Ionic Cell Signalling, are considered to be at risk despite Williams receiving significant grants from the British Heart Foundation. Though the exact figure is unconfirmed, the latest grant (or ‘award’, as it is described by the BHF) is reported to be approximately one million pounds.

This news comes just one week after Gair Rhydd revealed that up to 69 members of academic staff are set to be made redundant as part of MEDIC Forward, Cardiff University’s controversial plan to restructure the School of Medicine. MEDIC Forward has attracted criticism from staff, students, and the University and College Union (UCU) for being who have expressed their “grave concerns” with the project.

In a report issued to the University Council, one of Cardiff University’s governing bodies, the UCU stated that MEDIC Forward was a “poorly-disguised exercise in removing from the School people who are outside the major areas favoured by the ‘primary influencers’”.

The UCU further stated that the proposals “present a real risk of reputational damage to Cardiff University […] to say nothing of the impact on the staff involved”. MEDIC Forward has described some departments, such as Williams’ as ‘unsustainable’, despite those same departments attracting millions of pounds in research grants.

It is understood that the Medical School needs to approve the million-pound grant before it can be awarded, but this has yet to happen because the consultation period for MEDIC Forward is ongoing. The Medical School has previously communicated that grant money and other investors would be returned to stakeholders where projects could not be completed, and it is assumed that if Williams’ department or team was disinvested from then the grant would have to be refunded.

Heart Disease is the biggest killer in Wales, and a leading cause of death in the United Kingdom. A report commissioned by the Welsh Assembly noted that the death rate of Coronary Heart Disease in Wales “is greater than in the majority of countries in Western Europe”.

It is feared that Cardiff University will be neglecting its mission to undertake research for the public good by disinvesting in Cardiology research, particularly when the research interests of charities such as the British Heart Foundation are at stake.

A Cardiff University spokesperson would not comment on the future of IMEM or Alan Williams’ group. The spokesperson said: “It would be inappropriate to comment on any funding application or an individual’s circumstances whilst the Medic Forward consultation process remains on-going. “

“Until the consultation with staff, stakeholders, the wider University, the Trade Unions and the individuals themselves is completed we would advise anyone who wishes to raise any concerns to do so through the most appropriate channels.”

Cardiff University would not confirm whether or not the scenario described was unique to Williams’ team, or if other research grants were also being suspended while the consultation period continues. They also refused to comment more broadly as to whether or not Cardiology research at the Medical School more was at risk of disinvestment.

Prof. Peter Weissberg, director of Medicine at the BHF, spoke to Gair Rhydd and said: “Many large medical schools in the UK have recently undergone strategic reviews and the BHF is aware that Cardiff University’s School of Medicine is currently undergoing such a review to redefine its priorities and its managerial structure.”

“Professor Alan Williams’ group is one of its leading lights and we are confident that Professor Williams’ new award is not in jeopardy, although it is not yet clear where his group will fit within the anticipated revised structure. We await the outcome of the formal consultation process with interest.”

“The BHF is committed to supporting high quality cardiovascular research across the UK. Cardiff University is aware of the burden of cardiovascular disease in the Welsh population and needs to define how it can best address this problem through its new research strategy and structure.”

Though the BHF is confident that Williams’ award is not in jeopardy, his position is. It is understood that Alan Williams is one of the 69 academics who have been notified that their area of research is currently being considered for disinvestment.

Despite wide-ranging student complaints about poor communication, nothing more has been communicated to students about MEDIC Forward since last week’s Gair Rhydd story, and many questions are still being asked.

The University and College Union presented the case for either slowing or stopping the MEDIC Forward restructure to University Council on Monday 18th of May. The report presented to those on Council cited a number of problems with the proposals as they stood:

The Council will meet in June to discuss the future of MEDIC Forward. The consultation continues.