Academics express 'profound consternation' at support-centre closures

November 25, 2010

More than 180 academics have signed a letter calling on the Higher Education Academy to reverse its decision to close its network of discipline-based teaching-support centres.

The letter expresses "profound consternation" at the HEA's plan to shut its 24 subject centres, arguing that it will cause "immeasurable damage" to teaching and learning.

"It is hard to think of other bodies more valued by their subject communities," say the authors, who gathered the signatures in the space of 48 hours.

The subject centres are all based in universities and directly employ their staff.

The HEA, which faces losing one-third of its core funding by 2012-13, plans to replace the centres with roaming subject heads directly employed by it.

It argues that this would allow it to continue subject-focused work more efficiently.

The news, which would mean the loss of about 130 full-time posts, prompted a strong reaction from Times Higher Education readers.

Vince Daly, director of research at Kingston University's School of Economics, said: "The sector needs the subject centres as a cost-effective strategy for subject-focused pedagogic developments. Generic teaching and learning issues are now well served by institutions themselves; the sector does not need (the HEA's headquarters in) York."

Others warned that the decision could threaten the HEA's future.

Michael McMahon, assistant professor of economics at the University of Warwick, who has run workshops for the Economics Network subject centre, said universities did not have the critical mass to provide subject-specific advice and that the reduced staffing would "not be enough" to continue the work of the subject centres.

"It is a sad decision and I think it will spell the end for the HEA - just at the time when the good work of the subject centres had started to break through the resistance put up by most academics to enhancing their teaching and learning," he said.

Nick Greeves, director of teaching and learning at the University of Liverpool's department of chemistry, said the Physical Sciences Centre had helped him to create an open educational resource that is accessed by 1,000 people a day.

And Mathew Guest, lecturer in the department of theology and religion at Durham University, asked: "Given the priorities stated in the Browne Review...on which planet does it make sense to cut the very staff who have done most to realise such significant progress in teaching and learning over the past decade?"

Sue Timmis, senior lecturer in technology enhanced learning at the University of Bristol and an external evaluator for the Economics Network, said the centre was known and respected by all economics departments.

She said the decision was "about HEA York wanting to take more control" and described the move as "cowardly".

A spokeswoman for the HEA said: "The HEA agrees that subject-level work is highly valued and it is committed to keeping this focus at the heart of its mission.

"In taking a fresh look at how this work is delivered, the HEA is able to protect a greater proportion of resource to be used on frontline services for institutions and their staff, in the face of overall reductions in funding."

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com

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