Head resigns as 93% do not pass course

August 13, 2004

Universities are taking controversial approaches to combat student failure rates to the dismay of staff

The head of a department that saw 93 per cent of this summer's architecture finalists fail their degrees has resigned amid claims that cutbacks led to impossible teaching conditions, writes Phil Baty.

The University of Central England this week confirmed the resignation of Thom Gorst as head of the School of Architecture and Landscape after two years in post.

Professor Gorst declined to comment, but lecturers' union Natfhe this week said he had been forced to make redundancies in the school despite the fact that the group whose degree course ended in such spectacular failure this year was one of the largest ever cohorts of students at the school.

Sue Davis, Natfhe official for the region, said: "The events and results in the School of Architecture are indeed 'unprecedented', as the university has said, and there appear to be no clear ideas as to why so many have failed.

"But I cannot help but reflect on the fact that cuts were sought in this school despite the fact that the intake in 2001 (this year's finalists) was double the normal cohort - 60 instead of 30. It is often the case that our members are highly dedicated and hardworking, however, they often work in difficult circumstances that are not of their making.

In January 2003 - after problems in 2001 with the professional accreditation of the architecture school - the university announced a £330,000 deficit in the faculty of the built environment, and confirmed that "major savings" would need to be made in the School of Architecture in particular, and a voluntary redundancy scheme was launched.

It is understood that staff covering 4.5 full-time posts took voluntary redundancy.

A university spokeswoman said that Professor Gorst's resignation was entirely personal and that UCE "wished him well in his future career". He has taken a senior lecturer post at the University of the West of England.

On the 93 per cent failure rate, she said: "The university views this as an unacceptable situation and has responded promptly. Each student is receiving individual support specifically tailored to his or her needs.

This will help many of them pass at the re-sit examinations in September.

"A working group of the Senate has been established to investigate the situation and an independent external adviser will be appointed." She said that no students would be enrolled on either the part-time or full-time BA architecture course in September, and students who had already secured places would be helped to find places elsewhere.

Peter Knight, UCE vice-chancellor, said: "For every other full-time degree course in the university, the overwhelming majority of students who enter the third year satisfy the examiners at the end of the academic year. The events in relation to the BA (Honours) architecture course are unprecedented, hence the immediate and decisive action that has been taken to address the situation."

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