Furious parents round on Exeter

December 17, 2004

A group of angry parents and secondary schoolteachers are preparing to take legal action against Exeter University if it approves plans to close its chemistry and music departments next week.

The university's council will meet on Monday to vote on the planned closures. If they are given the green light, the campaign group Parents against Cuts at Exeter (Pace) will mount a court case accusing the university of breach of contract.

The group, which is composed of parents, teachers and students, also plans to demonstrate at Exeter student open days to tell parents and students that they should take the institution off their list of choices.

And teachers in secondary schools, sixth-form and further education colleges have pledged to stop recommending the university to their students for any subjects.

Wendy Paterson, the mother of a first-year chemistry student at the institution and founder of Pace, said: "We will be warning parents that Exeter's courses are clearly unsafe as they are subject to the whims of the vice-chancellor."

She added: "My son was eight weeks into his first term doing chemistry and he was absolutely loving the course - he was flying. The news of the closure was absolutely devastating."

A spokesperson for Exeter said this week: "We are not the first and will not be the last university to phase out degree programmes."

He said: "We have given a commitment to our students that they will receive an experience equivalent to that which they would have had."

Dr Paterson's group is arguing that staff in the axed departments will be eager to establish careers elsewhere as soon as possible, and therefore it is "inconceivable that the students will receive the quality and reputation of education and degree that they had every reason to expect when they enrolled at Exeter".

During a heated private meeting last week, Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of Exeter, told Dr Paterson that he was shocked by the personal campaign that he felt had been mounted against him, aspects of which, he argued, could be libellous.

But Dr Paterson said: "I (told him) that I hoped he would take me to court for libel as I would welcome the extra publicity it would give to the campaign."

Students in the chemistry and music departments have been asked by the university to consider a range of options over Christmas. The university has been negotiating with a number of top universities to take on students from its chemistry department, and students will be offered up to £2,000 towards relocation.

Music teaching is already delivered by a combination of permanent academic and peripatetic teaching, so the university says it anticipates "no particular difficulties in maintaining high-quality teaching until the end of the degree programmes". But it has promised to help students transfer to another degree course elsewhere if they prefer.

Pace website details: www.exaction.org.uk




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