Call for more theory elicits protests in practice

Leeds programme head resigns over demand for more academic input, writes Melanie Newman

December 10, 2009

While pressure mounts to make courses more business-focused, one department at the University of Leeds has announced alternative ambitions - to become more academic.

However, attempts to increase the theoretical content of programmes in the Institute of Communication Studies (ICS) have not been welcomed by all.

The institute's staff are divided over the move: some have complained that their professional skills are insufficiently valued by the professoriate, and a senior member of the ICS has resigned from his role as programme head.

Patrick Titley, head of television production and a Bafta-winning director, stood down after receiving an email from Gary Rawnsley, ICS director, ordering him to increase the programme's "academic input".

A source within the university, who asked not to be named, said there was a "toxic" atmosphere in the institute.

"Every opportunity is taken to belittle the professional side of the courses," they said.

Meanwhile, the Leeds Student newspaper has reported concerns among students about the practical elements of their degrees.

While such elements are in high demand, they have not met the expectations of some, and the institute performed badly in this year's National Student Survey.

Georgia Goggin, ICS staff-student committee representative, told the newspaper: "There is much desire from students for more practical courses, because we know that if you want to go into the industry you need to know one end of the camera from the other."

But she added: "There isn't the equipment and there aren't the teaching hours available ... I can't help but think that the academic side is somewhat cheaper than the practical."

A Leeds spokeswoman said a curriculum review was under way and that its recommendations would go to the ICS' teaching and learning committee when it was completed.

"The review is to ensure teaching is current, relevant and linked with research," she said. "There is a commitment by the institute in the principles and aims of the review to maintain a balance between media practice and theory."

She said that £5 million was being invested in a new building with TV and radio facilities, adding that the aim was to continue delivering courses that "prepare our students for careers in the media, in terms of both practical skills and with theoretical knowledge and understanding".

Hundreds of jobs are at risk at Leeds, which has announced plans to make annual savings of about £35 million.

The university has not specified how many posts will go, but the University and College Union has claimed it could be as high as a 10 per cent cut in academic staff.

Leeds UCU members have passed a motion of no confidence in vice-chancellor Michael Arthur, who last week said that compulsory redundancies, although unlikely, could not be ruled out.

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