Second wave of ELQ tremors may hit OU science

July 16, 2009

Plans to reduce The Open University's undergraduate science curriculum have been held up as evidence of a "second wave" of impact from the withdrawal of £100 million a year in funding for equivalent and lower-level qualifications (ELQs).

A document outlining cost-saving measures being considered by The Open University reveals that the institution, which has been hit particularly hard by the ELQ cuts, may offer just one undergraduate science course - a BSc in Natural Science. The course would replace the named science degrees currently on offer.

The paper, penned by Phil Potts, The Open University's dean of science, says the new degree will also "allow some reduction of the total number of modules required to support this qualification". Residential schools may also be withdrawn.

The Open University is facing a 10 per cent cut in funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England as a result of the Government's decision on ELQs.

Tom Sperlinger, director of lifelong learning for English at the University of Bristol, said the plans were part of a second wave of tremors from the ELQ decision.

"The provision that survived the initial culls often did so at a cost or in isolation, and thus is vulnerable as wider cuts in higher education loom," he said. "The result is a vastly reduced curriculum for adult students, and in this second phase the damage is clearly spreading beyond the arts and humanities, which bore the brunt of the initial cuts."

Others have raised fears that The Open University may run the risk of "dumbing down" its science degree as a result of the changes, a claim denied by the institution.

A postgraduate in its department of management and science, who asked not to be named, said: "As a current student, I am concerned that this 'dumbed-down' degree will not be as respected and may affect students' chances of getting a degree-related job or being accepted for further study."

Another student, Kate Allen, a geosciences undergraduate, said she was "absolutely gutted" about the plans to overhaul the curriculum.

Professor Potts said no decision had yet been made about the proposals, and offered assurances that appropriate notice would be given if courses were withdrawn or qualification structures changed.

"Considerable attention has been paid to the way the new curriculum would provide learning opportunities in practical science.

"This course will be the same length in terms of hours of study as at present and there is absolutely no suggestion of dumbing down or losing rigour," he said.

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