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The Rambler :: blog

Monday, December 06, 2004

University music - endangered species? 

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The University of Exeter - University News

Amidst all the recent and ongoing kerfuffle about Exeter University voting to close its Chemistry Department (the fourth Chem Dept to go this year - prompting Nobel Laureate Sir Harry Kroto to return his honorary degree), Newcastle losing Physics and Cambridge considering dispensing with Architecture (prompting high profile protest from Norman Foster, Antony Gormley and Griff Rhys-Jones) at least two Music Departments have also been chopped in recent months.

Reading University voted to close its Department earlier this summer. And the meeting that saw Exeter's Chemistry course vanish also did for their music too:
The Senate of the University of Exeter, at its meeting on Wednesday 1 December, supported a package of measures designed to position the University to take maximum advantage of its strengths in teaching and research.

[...]

Music making will continue and be strengthened by the appointment of a full time Director of Music but the academic study of Music will cease. Italian will continue to be taught as part of the School of Modern Languages.

Senate voted on the proposals as follows.

[...]

* Music: 33 votes for, 10 against, and 5 abstentions.

[...]

The University's Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve Smith said: "These were difficult issues for Senate to deal with. Our proposals have been the subject of regional and national debate and have served to highlight the pressures facing all universities in the UK."

The proposals put before Senate are designed to refocus the University's academic activities, enabling it to reduce financial losses in some departments and allow those making a surplus to invest in their future success. They are a response to recent changes in the higher education marketplace, principally the increasing concentration of research funds into 5 and 5* rated departments. The University's senior management want to make changes now in advance of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise so that Exeter can protect and enhance its position as one of the UK's top research-led universities.

[...]

Arrangements will be made to enable students on affected courses to complete their degrees. We expect there to be no drop in the quality of teaching under these arrangements.

We will now be sitting down with the students to discuss how this is achieved. There are a variety of options. These include:

* 'Buying back' existing lecturers or employing lecturers from other equivalent universities to complete the teaching.
* Enabling students to transfer to courses at equivalent universities. Two universities of similar standing to Exeter have already offered to take students.
* Transfer to other courses within the University where appropriate

Whatever the eventual solution, the University will manage the process. Student liaison groups are now being established within the affected areas to ensure that students have an input into the process and that their concerns are heard at the highest level. A great deal of senior management time will be devoted to managing this situation and the welfare of the students is our paramount concern.


What's most worrying in the long term is that the Exeter decision was made on the basis of departments achieving less than 5 or 5* RAE ratings. The Reading statement is less explicit, but the phrase "Reading, like many institutions, has to direct its limited resources to academic areas where there is a realistic potential for excellence" sounds as though similar considerations came into play. This has huge ramifications for so many departments in all subjects, and the effect on the national university system could be devastating.


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