Open letter urges rethink over university's plans to suspend recruitment to 138 courses

An arts organisation has spoken out against the University of Wolverhampton's plans to suspend recruitment to performing arts courses.

University members outside the George Wallis Building, which is home to the School of Art, School of Media, and Print Services Unit.
University members outside the George Wallis Building, which is home to the School of Art, School of Media, and Print Services Unit.

Professor Kene Igweonu, the chair of SCUDD – Standing Conference of University Drama Departments – penned an open letter to the University urging them to reconsider.

It comes as the university is suspending recruitment for 138 undergraduate and postgraduate courses for September 2022, despite being mid-way through the UCAS admissions cycle.

When taking into account variants of these courses such as foundation years and part-time courses, the figure rises to 418 courses.

Staff and students at the university had a showdown with Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Julia Clarke on Thursday as the university was accused of "trying to kill the arts".

Professor Igweonu's letter also reveals the extent of performing arts courses which will not recruit for September 2022, as the university has said it will not publish a full list of the courses which will not go ahead next year.

Affected courses extend across all undergraduate and postgraduate provisions in drama/acting and theatre, dance, musical theatre, music, popular music, music and community practice, audio technology and digital production arts for theatre.

The letter also says the university will reduce the number of staff in the School of Performing Arts through a mutually agreed resignation scheme with possible compulsory redundancies in case not enough staff apply for the voluntary scheme.

In his open letter, Professor Igweonu said: "We are alarmed to hear that the School of Performing Arts at the University of Wolverhampton is under threat, owing to your recent publicly announced plans to suspend recruitment to all Level 4 and Level 7 courses in the School for the academic year 2022-23.

"We strongly urge you to reconsider your stance and to engage in meaningful dialogue with staff of the School of Performing Arts with a view to establishing a mutually agreeable approach to address any underlying challenge.

"These plans, should they be implemented, will have a detrimental impact on hardworking staff and students, as well as the HE disciplinary communities represented within the School.

"It will result in long-lasting damage to the University and School’s reputation, which has been carefully cultivated by staff over the years.

"The School of Performing Arts at the University of Wolverhampton has traditionally offered opportunities for study to young people who are often first generation HE students from the Black Country/West Midlands.

"The suspension, which looks more like a euphemism for the demise and eventual closure, of these courses removes a crucial gateway into the performing arts and the chance to study at University which has been cherished by so many socially and financially underprivileged students over the years.

"It is particularly devastating that proposals to cut Drama, Theatre and Performance will have an impact on the very industries – the performing arts and cultural sector – in the UK which have sustained the nation’s mental health and well-being throughout the privations of Covid-19 lockdowns and the current cost of living crisis under which we all live.

"The proposed plans will also have a direct economic impact, as graduates from the School of Performing Arts feed into an industry which contributes £10.6 billion to the UK economy each year.

"We urge you to reconsider these disproportionate plans, and instead, develop a courageous and long-term strategy which acknowledges the central contribution the School of Performing Arts make to the University of Wolverhampton, as well as the contribution creatives graduates make to the arts and creative industries in the region and wider UK. Now, more than ever, UK universities need to invest in the development of skilled and creative graduates from diverse backgrounds, in order to help us re-imagine our post-pandemic world."

Interim Vice-Chancellor at the University of Wolverhampton, Professor Ian Campbell, said: “The University of Wolverhampton is committed to ensuring an excellent student experience and creating opportunities that enhance the lives of our graduates and wider communities. This will always be at the very heart of what we do.

“The higher education sector as a whole faces a number of significant challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly increased costs to the University while at the same time, like many similar universities, our enrolments have been falling with associated loss of income. This has been compounded by difficulties around overseas travel impacting international students during the pandemic.

“The reduction in student income, combined with increases in pay and non-pay costs including pension costs, alongside the impact of the pandemic, means the University is facing a very challenging financial landscape and a significant deficit in the current financial year.

“We are embarking on a robust recovery action plan which has included an internal cost-saving exercise across the institution and an external benchmarking exercise. We have also announced a Mutually Agreed Resignation Scheme, which is a recognised process through which an individual employee, in agreement with their employer, chooses to leave their employment in return for a compensation payment.

“As part of the recovery plan, we have been assessing subject areas using information such as enrolment and application data, the National Student Survey, Graduate Outcomes Survey, continuation and progression of students and student experience to ensure that our course offering continues to meet the needs of future students.

“This evidence-based review means we are looking to consolidate some areas and are suspending recruitment of new students on some courses. In the majority of cases, we are offering viable alternative offers for applicants looking to join us in September 2022. Current students on these courses will continue to be taught as normal.

“This will enable us to focus on developing course areas that meet the needs of our students and also ensure we prioritise providing an excellent student experience. We would encourage any applicants or students with questions about this to contact the University for information and advice on 01902 32 3505.

“We are ensuring our staff and unions are kept informed and remain absolutely committed to providing an excellent learning and teaching experience for our students and enhancing opportunities within our region.”

Meanwhile regional official for UCU, Anne O’Sullivan, said: "We have serious concerns about the decision by the University of Wolverhampton to suspend recruitment to 146 courses, especially when there has been no consultation with staff or students and no information provided on the reasoning behind the decision.

"The plans to hit mainly arts and social science subjects looks like a crude attack on the arts and humanities, which is becoming endemic across the sector.

"Vice-chancellors of post-92 universities should be fighting a government agenda that wants to stifle opportunities for working class students, instead Wolverhampton seems to believe that its students don’t deserve access to the arts and humanities.

"The university must provide us with more information, and staff and students with more certainty by cancelling plans to freeze recruitment or cut courses.

"Jobs could be lost and the University of Wolverhampton urgently needs to rethink these plans before it does everlasting damage to its reputation as an academic institution."

Further courses at risk are listed here.

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