Open debate on course closure 1

December 1, 2006

Last week's cover story ("Johnson acts to halt closures", November 24) hints that ministers are belatedly acknowledging that their refusal to act over department closures is endangering wider policy objectives such as the expansion of science provision, the widening participation agenda and the encouragement of teaching excellence.

It is good news that ministers will now ask the Higher Education Funding Council for England to tell them of impending problems.

What is less clear, given that future notification of closures appears to be subject to a voluntary code, is how the funding council will gather all the information in a timely fashion.

Even more important is what ministers propose to do with this information when they have it. Like many others, I have been amazed that, despite being pressed by the University and College Union, neither the Government nor Hefce has even sought a public explanation for Reading University's closure of its renowned physics department.

The case of Reading, where the decision to close was taken against the clear wishes of faculty, the student body and the international academic community, will not be the last unless we can have an open and transparent process for future closures.

The game of political pass the parcel between ministry, funding council and vice-chancellors is bad for staff, bad for students and bad for the country.

Sally Hunt.
Joint general secretary.
University and College Union

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