'Cheated' students may sue

August 9, 2002

Students may sue Birmingham University over staff cuts they say threaten the quality of their courses.

All 12 academics in the department of cultural studies and sociology have taken voluntary severance offered as part of a restructuring plan to save £5 million and boost research performance.

Critics say it has left the university struggling to find enough lecturers to teach about 200 undergraduates and 50 postgraduates in the department.

Local MPs, who met senior managers this week, have asked to see plans for the continuation of teaching cultural studies and sociology. They were concerned to hear that the university had sent an email to its academics asking if any were willing to help fill the teaching void.

Student campaigners said they were unlikely to be satisfied with proposals to cover the subjects with four staff drafted in from other departments.

They argued that teaching standards in the subjects, which have received top ratings from quality assessors, were bound to slip.

James Cooper, a media, culture and society student representing undergraduates, said students would take legal advice on suing the university if they were unhappy with the arrangements.

He said: "We feel cheated. We signed up for this course because it was one of the best in the country, but we can't see how that quality can continue now."

Inez Templeton, a postgraduate student who is transferring to the University of Stirling because of the shake-up, added: "It is ludicrous to suggest that the university will be able to find academics of the same quality for these subjects in such a short space of time."

David Allen, Birmingham's registrar and secretary, said the department had been split into a new institute of applied social studies and a centre of cultural studies set up to allow it to "play to its strengths".

He said: "The changes do not affect the total resources available because we will be able to draw on other staff who have expertise in these areas. The programmes will continue to be delivered."

The row follows a ruling from the university's visitor, Privy Council president Robin Cook, that Birmingham's senate should not have delegated authority to its vice-chancellor, Michael Sterling, to nominate members of a redundancy committee. But the university will not have to correct its actions since its senate later endorsed the nominations.

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