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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