Sit-in over cuts at London Met

Students object to 'heavy-handed' security guards brought in to quell protest, writes John Morgan

May 12, 2011

Students staged an occupation at London Metropolitan University demanding plans for course closures are withdrawn, while a senior manager has left with immediate effect.

The occupation of the Graduate Centre, at London Met's Holloway Road campus, was joined by around 70 students at its peak, after beginning on 4 May.

It ended on 10 May, after the university gained a High Court injunction. Occupiers complained that the university hired "heavy-handed" security guards from an outside firm.

London Met is to close courses such as history, philosophy, performing arts, Caribbean studies and modern languages. The hardest-hit faculty, Humanities, Arts, Languages and Education (Hale), will be left with just seven single honours undergraduate courses this autumn.

London Met has the highest proportion of working-class students of any UK university, and critics fear arts and humanities subjects will be closed off to these students.

In what many staff see as another sign of turmoil, Hale's dean is retiring with immediate effect. Roddy Gallacher's departure comes after academics in the faculty passed a vote of no confidence in him and other senior managers.

In an email to staff this week, Cliff Snaith, University and College Union branch secretary, says the university's case to close Hale is based on the faculty's £8.3 million deficit. But Dr Snaith claims that the university's documentation shows that the faculty makes £12 million in central payments to the university, compared with around £6 million for two other comparable faculties.

London Met says the closures are needed to make the university sustainable under the new fees and funding regime that begins in 2012.

The university has set lower fees than any other higher education institution, with an average charge of around £6,850 a year and some courses priced as low as £4,500.

Some staff claim that Malcolm Gillies, London Met's vice-chancellor, is eager to follow the government's model for newer universities by offering mainly vocational subjects for relatively low fees. Jonathan Woodhead, former adviser to the universities and science minister David Willetts, is Professor Gillies' executive officer.

Staff wrote to Professor Gillies urging a review of Hale's course offering, "this time involving full transparency about ... the costing model being used to determine course viability".

The student occupiers, who were supported by the London Met students' union, demanded that Professor Gillies accept the Hale staff proposals.

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