Students hit back at cuts to top-rated university department

Students at Birmingham City University have condemned proposed cuts to its top-rated media department.

The Birmingham School of Media, which is ranked fifth in the UK by The Guardian, is to be subject to £230,000 in imminent cuts by the university’s management. 30% of staff at the Skillset-accredited institution face redundancy over the next year, and provision of teaching resources and academic research will also be affected.

“These cuts will affect the learning experience dramatically”, recent web and new media graduate Adam Stewart said. “Not only will there be a higher student-to-staff ratio (and therefore less one-on-one time and correspondence with the lecturers), but there will be a downsizing of available degree programmes and a drop in teaching quality for those that remain.”

“This is unfair all round – for the current students, the lecturers and support staff, and those who hope to start their studies this September.”

An online campaign against the cuts has been met with opposition from the university’s directorate, who attempted to shut down an accompanying petition and Facebook group. “They said that we shouldn’t have been told about the cuts, which is completely ridiculous”, said second year public relations student Stephen Pink. “What happens when we come back next year and find our lecturers have been laid off and there aren’t enough classrooms or computers?”.

The Birmingham School of Media is ranked fifth in The Guardian‘s 2011 university league table for media, communications and librarianship. This makes Birmingham City University (BCU) the top post-1992 university for this subject and gives the university its highest placing on any of the newspaper’s tables (it is ranked 66th on the main league table). The School averaged 95% for overall course satisfaction in the latest National Student Survey results, compared with 77% for BCU as a whole.

A Skillset Media Academy, the School is recognised by the UK’s sector skills council as a “centre of excellence in television and interactive media” that “works with industry in developing the new wave of media talent”. The School offers industry-standard training approved by organisations such as Avid, the CIPR, and the BJTC. Its alumni include television presenter Kirsten O’Brien, BBC WM’s Phil Upton, and sports reporter Mary Rhodes.

Media academics and industry professionals have leapt to the School’s defence, as have its former students. Journalist Todd Nash, who graduated in 2008 and has since written for The Guardian, said: “As a Media and Comms graduate, this news disappoints me. It would be a shame to see the teaching standards, and therefore reputation of the school, go downhill.”

Nick Lockey, a new media producer at Maverick Television, added: “I have been consistently impressed by the enthusiasm and capability of BCU Media students and the dedication of the faculty staff. I fully back the campaign to protect the department from financial cutbacks and hope that the School continues to deliver high quality learning for all of its students in the future.”

Jennifer Jones, a researcher in cultural studies at the University of the West of Scotland, called the School “one of the most clued up, industry-focused media departments. With the media calling the shots across politics, there is no better time to be improving media literacy and questioning motives behind bigger institution. This is something that is at the heart of the Birmingham School of Media.”

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BCU Students’ Union issues statement on cuts

Birmingham City Students’ Union has issued a statement about the cuts being made across the university, including the School of Media (which gets a special mention). In “Students’ Union Statement on Cuts” (24 June 2010), the union says it will work on both national and university levels to support, protect and represent students who are affected by and/or concerned about the cuts. Here’s an extract:

With regards to cuts within Birmingham City University, the Union will work hard to support students who are worried their courses will be affected. Whilst we believe in principle that there should not be further cuts to departments across the University, we will focus our campaigning activities at a national level as part of wider coalition-based campaigning where we believe we can have the most impact and the best chance to influence policy makers. Within the University, we intend to ensure that students are able to voice their concerns and make their views known concerning proposed cuts at every level of the University. For example, we have recently supported students from the Media School to meet with the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Performance, Media and English to raise their concerns regarding proposed cuts to their school.

The Union will continue to put pressure on the University to ensure that the student experience is placed above all other concerns when discussions are taking place regarding cuts. We will ensure that the student voice is heard loud and clear at all stages, and work with students from all areas of the University to address particular concerns as they arise. We will be paying particular attention to issues that students already express concern over, including class sizes, the facilities available to students and the number of contact hours students have.

If you are a new or returning student and you wish to get in touch with the Union with concerns regarding cuts to your course, please contact union.president@bcu.ac.uk or jema.davis@bcu.ac.uk

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BCU’s vice-chancellor earns more than £237,000

The Birmingham Post‘s Nick McCarthy has written an interesting article about the salaries of university vice-chancellors in the West Midlands, including BCU’s very own David Tidmarsh. From “Cuts at universities, while vice chancellors enjoy huge salaries and perks” (1 July 2010):

University chiefs in the West Midlands are being paid twice as much as the Prime Minister – and enjoying a string of lavish perks – as they wield the axe on staff and courses.
An investigation by the Birmingham Post has revealed the salary-and-benefits packages of globe-trotting vice chancellors at a time when the coalition Government has called for cuts restraint in public spending.
Angry unions have warned hundreds of staff will be made redundant and courses will be scrapped as universities grapple with 25 per cent cuts. They have accused the vice chancellors of “living like viceroys”.
Birmingham City University’s vice chancellor David Tidmarsh received an inflation-busting 10 per cent pay increase from £213,843 in 2007-08 to £237,864 in 2008-09. He claimed a relatively modest £700 in expenses for the same time period.
All of the universities are making redundancies.
Business Secretary Vince Cable has launched a scathing attack on the salaries of vice-chancellors, who he described as being “out of touch with reality on pay levels.”
Mr Cable said: “It is critical that all of us who receive public funds to provide public services play our part in reducing the burden of public debt and restoring financial health.
“We are expecting the Business, Innovation and Skills Department to apply restraint on all aspects of pay and bonuses with a lead being given by senior staff.
“We expect universities and colleges will wish to do the same.”
In a letter sent to universities, also signed by University Minister David Willetts, Mr Cable said: “All universities have the right and responsibility to make your own decisions. Nonetheless, we hope you will bear in mind these expectations that we are applying elsewhere across publicly funded agencies and services.”
Mr Cable said: “Although it is not our job to control pay, we want to signal to the universities that there has got to be some restraint.”
Martin Machon, regional officer for the University and College Union (UCU), said staff would be “shocked and horrified” about chauffeurs, rent-free houses and expensive artwork.
He said: “University staff are being made redundant in their hundreds across the Midlands and we now hear that vice chancellors are receiving huge annual pay increases and are living with all the trappings of a viceroy.
“It is the old issue of spending other people’s money. They should set an example in these difficult times and should consider pay cuts like the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.”
Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said: “At a time when vice chancellors are already pushing for students and their families to pay more to access their universities it is disappointing that they think it is acceptable to claim such luxuries.
“The Government has just announced another round of cuts to university funding and students cannot be expected to pay for these kinds of extravagances.”
PAY AND BONUSES OF THE VICE CHANCELLORS
Birmingham City University – Vice chancellor Prof David Tidmarsh
Salary: 07/08 – £213,843
08/09 – £237,864  (Unable to provide details for 09/10)
The University also paid pensions contributions worth £32,021
* Expenses (including personal expense claims, travel and credit card payments): £705.38
* Accommodation: None
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Roy Greenslade blogs about cuts for The Guardian

Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University London and former editor of the Daily Mirror, has written about the cuts to the Birmingham School of Media on his blog on The Guardian website. From “Journalism students angry at cutbacks” (7 June 2010):

There are concerns among students at Birmingham City University’s school of media that it is to be subject to immediate cuts of £230,000.

They believe it will have a severe impact on the provision of teaching and technical staff, resources, and academic research.

A student emailed me to say: “We are currently trying to mount a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and to perhaps generate solutions.”

To further their cause they have set up a petition (257 signatures thus far) and also a Facebook group (with 600 members).

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Highlights from the Scratch Radio special

BCU’s student radio station Scratch Radio aired a special programme about the cuts to the Faculty of Performance, Media and English (PME), including the School of Media, and to the wider university. You can listen to highlights from the show (broadcast on 28 May 2010) here:

In the studio for the debate were BCU Students’ Union President Tom Tom, SU Communications Officer (and BCU Media graduate) Kat Higgs, and media undergraduates Adam Stewart, James Abbott, and Eddy Durnan. The show was co-presented by Dan Richards and Ben Stones.

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Video about the BCU Media cuts

Journalism student Hanna Tidd has produced a video about the cuts to the Birmingham School of Media. You can watch it on YouTube below:

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