Water Centre millions in red: UWA

Top scientist: Jorg Imberger. Illustration: Toby Wilkinson

WA's most prestigious university has opened up about its decision to axe a world-renowned water research centre, saying it operated at a loss, lacked academic grunt and was not collaborative.

Fresh from revelations it had closed the Centre for Water Research set up by top scientist Jorg Imberger in 1982, the University of WA yesterday released a statement outlining its reasons.

According to UWA, the move was based on an external review that found "the Centre does not appear to meet the fundamental criteria for a Centre as described in the 2011 policy guidance of the university".

"It fails on qualities of scale, collaboration with UWA peers and sustainability," it said.

The university said its research centres were supposed to have at least six full-time academics "actively engaged in research initiatives" but the CWR had just two.

These were believed to be Professor Imberger and Associate Professor Clelia Marti, both of whom UWA has said it will move to another academic department.

The university also said the CWR had an "accumulated operating deficit" of $3.22 million, making it unsustainable.

And it said unlike other centres the CWR had failed to collaborate with other academic units at the university or with "major external water resources" bodies.

On top of this, UWA claimed the review had recommended the CWR be investigated over "consistent and extensive claims of 'unacceptable behaviour and treatment of both staff and students by their CWR supervisors'".

Christopher Brennen, a retired emeritus professor from the California Institute of Technology, dismissed as "bureaucratic counting" the need for centres to have six academics.

Professor Brennen said it beggared belief UWA could claim the CWR lacked academic standing when Professor Imberger was an international authority on some water issues.

He also said it was "dubious" to claim the centre failed to collaborate given it had a "tremendous" reputation worldwide, while allegations of misconduct were inconsistent with his experience with the CWR.