Axe hangs over top UEA school

March 5, 2004

Education secretary Charles Clarke's desire for a more market-driven higher education system looks set to claim two prestigious departments at the University of East Anglia, which lies in his constituency.

UEA's renowned drama department and its School of Language, Linguistics and Translation have been given until the end of May to put rescue packages together.

Both departments are under fire because they have been running deficits for a number of years. But in an increasingly tough higher education market, the university is being forced to call them to account.

Apart from the potential political embarrassment, the loss of drama at UEA could also be personally awkward for Mr Clarke.

His wife, Carol Pearson, has been a central figure in the development of a state-of-the-art theatre in Norwich called The Garage to boost creative arts in the region and to improve access to them for local people.

Ralph Yarrow, head of drama at UEA, said: "We have been working closely with The Garage since its inception, and two of our former students work there. The end of drama at UEA will hit drama and the creative arts in the whole region."

Mr Clarke said: "This is a matter for UEA but I'm sure they will do all they can to save these two very important departments."

Drama at UEA attracts 18 applications per place, and university drama nationally is a fast-growing area. The university's drama studio was opened just ten years ago by playwright Harold Pinter.

But in a statement made to drama staff last month, the university said that the studio was "relatively expensive" to maintain. "Continued subsidy would mean in effect imposing cuts in activity in other areas," it said.

Languages, linguistics and translation have also been in deficit at UEA for some time, principally due, the university says, to difficulties in recruiting nationally for language courses.

A university spokesperson said that no decision had been taken on the future of drama or languages and that it was too early to comment or to talk about redundancies.

In what the university insists is a separate move, UEA's senate this week approved controversial restructuring plans aimed at improving its research performance.

The university assembly, which has no formal powers but is the main forum for staff at UEA, passed a motion last week urging the senate to oppose the restructuring plans. Staff fear redundancies and say there has been a lack of consultation.

The university believes a four-faculty structure - covering science, social science, arts and humanities and health - will better equip it to win research funds.

Papers presented to senate this week, based on a report by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers commissioned last year, spell out the university's vulnerability in the face of increasingly concentrated research funds.

Forty-four per cent of UEA's staff were entered in units rated 4 or below in the 2001 research assessment exercise.

"They are tremendously vulnerable in a funding environment that is likely to support only the very best," the papers say.

It adds: "The consultation emerged against a background of significant cost-pressures that would undermine and could, over time, overwhelm the university."

claire.sanders@thes.co.uk

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