Luton's courses must pay their way

January 26, 2001

Luton University is drawing up radical survival plans under which it will slash traditional academic disciplines in favour of more popular vocational courses.

Politics, history, sociology, English, languages and some science courses have been designated as "subjects that lack competitive strength" in a confidential review seen by The THES .

The "root and branch" report, which makes plain that areas that fail to recruit enough students will be sacrificed, recommends the humanities faculty be "absorbed" as part of restructuring plans.

Rebranding of the troubled university is also planned.

The report, A Development of the Corporate Organisational Structure , outlines immediate plans to save £4 million next year following a recruitment shortfall. Luton fell 10 per cent short of its 2,000-student target, which could mean a £3 million reduction in its block grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England for 2001-02. The under-recruitment was concentrated in just 13 per cent of mainly traditional subject areas.

"Luton has no alternative but to increase recruitment to the more popular 'new university' subjects if it is to be competitive," the report says. "Clearly this must entail an internal transfer of resources from subjects/disciplines in less demand." Luton earmarked its "prime disciplines" as business, management, marketing, design and media.

Vice-chancellor Dai John said this week: "Higher education in the United Kingdom is changing rapidly - more places are available to fewer students who, in turn, are choosing the more vocational subject areas.

"This is not what we wanted, but the student market is changing and Luton cannot continue to support those courses for which there is insufficient demand."

A reduction in staff numbers was "inevitable", he said, but there was scope for voluntary redundancies and redeployment.

Frank Carr, branch president of lecturers' union Natfhe, said staff were "upset and worried" about the threat to jobs and the prospects for humanities subjects. The number of redundancies should be announced in the next few weeks.

The university insisted that humanities would not disappear. "We are talking about absorbing the administrative centre called 'humanities'," said a spokeswoman. She said that English and history would become "complementary disciplines", moving under the direction of a proposed creative arts and technologies faculty. Law and languages would be subsumed by Luton business school.

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