The recently published agenda for the University Council meeting on March 25th makes a mockery of the University’s claim that Sports Studies degrees were not ended for financial reasons. The agenda also confirms the widespread fear and speculation that other courses in a similar position to sports are also under threat.
While we have been consistently told that Sports degrees were ended simply as a means to increase the research standard of the University, the Vice Chancellor’s strategy (item 05.1 in the agenda) provides more clarity to the reasoning behind this decision. The strategy states that he intends to “increase income from research grants and contracts at a rate which exceeds that of our Russell Group comparators.” So rather than research standards, Prof. Don Nutbeam aims to improve the University’s income. A further commitment, in the financial strategy states that the University will focus its academic energy on ‘well funded subjects’ to ‘maximize earning from research grants and contracts’.
The message then is clear. Courses are to be judged not on quality or value to society, but in the cold, hard realities of pounds and pence.
The agenda goes on to state that resources expended on unfunded research- often the most academically and socially beneficial- will be reduced. It also states that the University will disinvest from academic areas that do not ‘fit with our strategy’. As this strategy seems to be mostly about maximizing income from research, it is clear that early fears are justified. Non-profitable courses are under threat.
The agenda later confirms this. University treasurer Malcolm Ace, predicts a release of resources from disciplines that the University will withdraw from entirely. He goes on to say that this money can then be invested in other areas. Therefore it is not as simple as cutting back on non-profitable courses to save money, the University plans to cut them so it can use the spare money to make as much profit as possible in other areas. This should rightly worry students in non-research based courses such as humanities.
The agenda also contains a commitment to reduce travel costs by strictly enforcing University rules on travel policy. Given that travel costs ran to over £9 million in the 2009 financial year, students will be concerned as to the extent to which these rules may have been flouted, especially given the harsh economic circumstances we find ourselves in.
In addition to all this, the University plans to increase student numbers from 20,380 to 25,000 by 2014. This comes in the wake of a Wessex Scene investigation last year revealing serious overcrowding on campus as a result of a boom in the student population since the mid nineties. There is no commitment in the review to invest money in new facilities to support the new students, and therefore it is safe to assume that overcrowding problems are set to get worse.
Many students will feel concern at this strategy. The focus on profit is in danger of blinding management to the real value of education. There is also a real threat to many other courses and jobs on campus as the strategy is implemented and cost cutting takes effect. As students we have a responsibility to fight for and defend the quality of our University, not just for us but for future generations of students. We are an academic institution, our commitments should be towards benefitting society and advancing academically not pure financial gain. Join Students Against Cuts on facebook to get involved.