Arts courses face shutdown at Falmouth University

Contemporary crafts, theatre studies and a digital media programme are set to be axed

December 4, 2014

Falmouth University has sparked protests among thousands of people in the arts community over plans to close three of its courses.

The institution believes that a degree in contemporary crafts is the university’s “most costly” and is no longer sustainable without cross-subsidy from other subject areas.

A petition to save the course has almost 7,000 signatures. The petition states that the contribution of graduates from the course to the cultural development of the UK “cannot be measured on a spreadsheet”.

Matthew Tyas, a final-year PhD student in the department, said closure will lead to a “contraction of the craft economy”. He added that the department was shocked and confused because the course had achieved its recruitment targets for the current academic year.

A memo to staff from senior deputy vice-chancellor Geoff Smith, which has been posted on the campaign’s Facebook page, lists three courses the university plans to suspend recruitment to, with immediate effect. The other two are a theatre course and a digital media programme.

A petition against the closure of the theatre course, which the university says has declining application rates and has “underperformed” on student satisfaction, has also attracted thousands of signatures.

In the memo, Professor Smith says contemporary crafts is Falmouth’s “most costly and space-intensive” subject, with “a relatively low graduate-level employability rate”.

“We cannot maintain the course’s heavy space utilisation and intensely process-led curriculum without significant cross-subsidy from other subject areas – something we are not prepared to do,” he writes. He adds that applications to crafts courses are declining nationwide.

Instead, the university will invest in new departments such as architecture and gaming, and will boost courses in entrepreneurship.

In a statement, the institution said: “Like all well managed universities, Falmouth keeps its course portfolio under active review to ensure that it’s appealing to applicants, prepares students for great careers in the global creative industries and is financially sustainable.”

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Reader's comments (2)

Falmouth University’s decision to suspend its highly regarded and popular Creative Crafts BA has caused widespread dismay in creative circles, not just locally but nationally. This is amply demonstrated by the very large number of signatures on the petition asking for the decision to be reconsidered, many of them those of well-known artists, crafts makers, Falmouth alumni and arts educators. Many of those signing have pointed out what a vital course this is in maintaining the kind of hands-on making skills that continue to be at the heart of Britain’s success in art and design. This was a point reinforced by Jony Ive, Apple’s chief designer, in a lecture last month for the Design Museum, in which he lamented the fact that so many design students are coming out of university having never actually made a physical object. These skills are particularly important to Cornwall’s economy, and many locally based signatories to the petition point out that they owe their livelihoods to them. The decision to close this successful and growing course was announced in the same month as the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London caught the popular imagination and Grayson Perry – the country’s most high-profile artist, whose practice in rooted in craft skills – launched his superb ‘Who Are You’ series. It appears that the university’s main reason reason for closing the course is the high cost of running the workshops that it uses, especially when the space could be used to expand IT and business-related courses. Many see this as a very deliberate turning away from a great tradition of artistic making that stretches back over 100 years and is still at the core of the Falmouth brand – indeed, the very reason why so many students opt to study there. Of course, this tradition is not opposed to digital innovation, and in fact the Creative Crafts BA makes extensive use of advanced digital techniques, as do the university's art and design courses. But within the university, the perception is that Falmouth's Vice Chancellor sees anything that is not mainly screen-based and business-oriented as an expensive and old-fashioned waste of space. In an extraordinary press release published a few days ago on the Falmouth University website, the university announced the results of 'research' into the creative industries commissioned from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, a high-end consultancy better known for the work it has undertaken for alcohol manufacturers (demonstrating why alcohol should not be more highly taxed) and for its 2011 analysis of the British tax system, which argued that people earning over £150,000 p/a should be taxed at lower rates.(Incidentally, Falmouth's Vice Chancellor Anne Carlisle is paid more than £250,000 p/a, including pension contributions.) The research announced by the university was actually a compilation of existing figures demonstrating the economic contribution of the cultural industries. There was nothing new in these, and many people might wonder why the university had seen fit to pay - no doubt handsomely - for them to be 'compiled' in this form. Curiously, there was no mention of research into the crafts industries published only this October by the Crafts Council, which put their contribution to the economy at £3.4 billion. The spin delivered to the figures by Professor Carlisle gives the game away. The press release barely mentions art or design, and the two cultural products that the Vice Chancellor cites as exemplifying the cream of the creative economy are Grand Theft Auto (a computer game notorious for its misogynistic violence) and Downton Abbey (widely seen as a hokily written series that wallows in backward-looking nostalgia for a vanished class system). This exercise, no doubt designed to big up the computer-based and business-oriented courses favoured by the university's 'CEO' (as she styles herself) have added to a mounting sense of dismay within and beyond the university, betraying as it does scant respect for the values that have made Falmouth an outstanding incubator of creative talent. Many students may be asking how much of their £9000 fees have been spent on commissioning these expertly massaged statistics. Your leading article today on governance at universities is acutely relevant to what is happening at Falmouth. The decisions to suspend these courses were taken by a very small group of people right at the top of the university, with little regard for the consequences, without adequate consultation among the staff and student body, and for reasons that (as the student you quote points out) do not appear to hang together. In his 2009 report into the very serious problems at London Metropolitan University, Sir David Melville CBE described "a highly centralised and dictatorial Executive led by the Vice-Chancellor, which was incapable of listening to what was going on in the university, discouraged or ignored criticism and made decisions without consultation. This total lack of collegiality is seen as having a dispiriting and demotivating effect on staff." Sir David continues: "Many staff who wrote to me expressed their strong support for the fundamental aims of LMU and were proud of its achievements, but they universally felt that their full potential and that of LMU were thwarted by this management style." Large numbers of Falmouth staff feel precisely the same way about the way their university has been led in the past few years, though the abrupt departure of many senior-level colleagues since Professor Carlisle's arrival has made them (understandably) extremely cautious about expressing open criticism of the executive. I hope very much that the THES will continue to report on developments at Falmouth. In the meantime, if readers would like to support Falmouth's great tradition of creative arts education, please add your names to the 38 Degrees petition – simply google ’38 degrees Falmouth crafts’ to find it. Thank you.

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