Wolverhampton university bosses accused of 'trying to kill the arts' in angry course cuts meeting

Angry staff and students have accused University of Wolverhampton bosses of "actively trying to kill the arts" and failing to promote the department.

Staff and students entering the George Wallis building prior to the meeting.
Staff and students entering the George Wallis building prior to the meeting.

The claims were made in the wake of the decision to halt student enrolment for more than 100 courses. The university has a deficit of £20 million, with a significant proportion of this coming from the School of Art, according to Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Julia Clarke.

The university announced this week that 138 courses will not enrol prospective students due to start in September 2022; but when taking into account variants of the courses, such as part time, foundation, and postgraduate, the number rises to 418.

Many of these are within the School of Art, including fine art (MA full-time and part-time), fashion (BA), digital and visual communications (MA), and media (BA).

This afternoon, staff and students voiced their anger in a showdown at the university's George Wallis building with Professor Clarke, who claimed the situation was down to a 10 per cent fall in UCAS applications and a £20 million deficit across the university.

She said enrolment numbers for the affected courses have suffered a decline in applications over the last few years, leading to the decision to not recruit students for September 2022.

However, incensed staff and students accused the university of failing to promote its art department and ignoring suggestions to raise its profile over the past few years, with one member of staff saying: "I'm sorry, I don't believe you."

Members of the art department told the Deputy Vice Chancellor they "feel like the sacrificial cow" and said bosses were "ripping the heart out of the Arts School".

Another student said: "Our education is at stake and it’s not our fault."

Many attendees at the meeting were current students who wanted to progress to a postgraduate course within the faculty, but will no longer be able to do so.

There was particular exasperation from seven students in the room who all wanted to do a fine art postgraduate course.

It is one of the 138 courses to halt enrolment, despite the fact that a current course running at the university has only one student.

And there was disbelief from fashion students that the course, which is ranked as seventh in the country according to The Guardian and has a student course satisfaction rate of 88.2 per cent, will not run for new students come September.

The Deputy Vice Chancellor claimed that to have a sustainable class of 20 students, there would need to be approximately 80 applications, as the application to enrolment turnover rate is around one in four.

As well as the disappointment in the halting of enrolment, staff and students were angry at the lack of communication from the university.

"We found out from Twitter," and "we all found out from the press" were common complaints at the meeting as many claimed they had not found out about the change from the university itself.

Although the Deputy Vice Chancellor said all applicants had been contacted, as well as current staff and students, a student who has been offered a place on a postgraduate course said she had received no communication from the university prior to online announcements.

"You have broken this trust by making this announcement," one attendee said.

There was also widespread frustration that the university has decided not to publish a full list of the courses which will no longer go ahead for new students.

Instead, the courses which will no longer recruit have been taken down from the website.

One member of staff argued that a course which had suffered from falling applications was thriving at another local university, claiming that they had a rise in applications of 25 per cent.

The general consensus among attendees was that suggestions to raise the profile of the university had been ignored, with one person saying: "we've not been listened to" and another saying that marketing at the university was "appalling".

One student claimed that people they knew who lived close to the School of Art building did not know that it existed.

Other students were angry that the university had hired external photographs when there are several photography students who could take on the work, with one student saying: "We always seem to be behind the curve."

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