Cuts threaten access reputation, Ulster staff claim

Academics fear that 'provision of teaching will be seriously diminished'. Matthew Reisz writes

March 22, 2012

Credit: Alamy

Proposed jobs cuts at the University of Ulster amount to the institution "abdicating its responsibilities to the wider community that funds it" and may "leave a massive hole in the educational provision for the children of Northern Ireland".

Those are among the claims made in an open letter to Ulster's vice-chancellor, Richard Barnett, that has been signed by 50 members of staff, 130 current and former students, as well as "concerned individuals" from across the world.

The letter was sent out on 13 March by Neal Garnham, senior lecturer in history at Ulster, with the worldwide group headed by the renowned literary theorist Terry Eagleton, now distinguished visitor in the department of English at the University of Notre Dame in the US.

Acknowledging that reduced funding from the Northern Ireland government necessitated spending cuts, the letter argues that "we must all take our fair share of the burden". Yet large-scale redundancies, including claims that a quarter of those teaching history, English and modern languages will lose their posts, mean that "provision of teaching and student care in some areas will become seriously diminished, if not inadequate".

All this was particularly serious, the letter goes on, in an institution that "prides itself on its ability to widen access to higher education for groups who have traditionally been excluded". It says that 1,500 Ulster students have some form of disability or suffer from long-term ill health, while almost 40 per cent hail from lower-income homes.

"Many more than the national average have caring responsibilities, looking after children, parents or other family members. We help these achieve better things for themselves and their families in later life," the letter says.

"The university is trying to push through piecemeal changes fairly rapidly so that particular areas get eroded without anyone noticing," Dr Garnham said.

A spokesman for Ulster said that its decisions had taken account of "existing workloads across the disciplines". Although eight posts would be lost in English and history, "in the Ulster Business School, an additional 10 posts are being filled. The overall aim is to bring performance across the disciplines more into line," the spokesman added.

He said the institution was "confident these changes will not impact at all on our excellent record...for widening access ".

Asked for an alternative to the cuts, Dr Garnham said: "If the vice-chancellor gave me three weeks and a look at the books, I could save him £1 million - there's a lot of fat to be trimmed."

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