University arts and humanities school agrees to divert funding to threatened department until 2008.

Cambridge University’s architecture school could be set for a reprieve, after a financial rescue package was agreed with other departments at the university.

The architecture department has been threatened with closure and faces a make-or-break meeting with the university’s general board next Wednesday. But a combination of strong backing from other Cambridge arts departments, the RIBA, Cambridge undergraduates and some of the biggest names in architecture may see it through.

The department has been in danger ever since it failed to obtain a five-star rating for research from the Higher Education Funding Council for England three years ago. This meant it lost 50-75% of its funding and is now struggling to pay its teachers. It is one of the few departments at Cambridge not to obtain a five-star rating.

Marciel Echenique, the head of the architecture department, last week met officials in the arts and humanities school, of which it is a part. The school said it would divert some of the resources earmarked for the other arts departments until 2008, in effect bailing it out.

Echenique said the decision would enable the department to work on gaining a top rating in 2008, the next time there is an assessment.

He said: “It’s a very big thing for us, because if we hadn’t had the subsidy it would have been very difficult.” He added that the 2001 HEFCE rating had been unfair as it had assessed the department in terms of the built environment, a wider area than just architecture.

Jack Pringle, RIBA president-elect, said he was optimistic about the department’s chances of survival. He said: “We’re extremely pleased that the arts and humanities school has accepted the department’s proposal.

“The department has the support of its peers and is the most popular subject at the university. It would be quite extraordinary if the proposal to close the school went through.”

Hundreds of students went on the march in Cambridge on Monday to protest against the closure, as RIBA officials worked frantically with the authorities in Cambridge.

The RIBA has written an open letter to the research council and the press imploring Cambridge to save its architecture school, echoing a letter signed by eminent architects such as Sir Michael Hopkins, Sir Terry Farrell, Lord Rogers and Lord Foster. The RIBA also plans to meet Alison Richard, the university’s vice-chancellor, next week.