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Birmingham's cultural studies department given the chop
Thursday June 27 2002
Students of sociology and cultural studies at the University of Birmingham
found a computer typed notice tacked to the door of the department this
morning: "This department has been cancelled. Nothing else matters," it
Birmingham University this morning confirmed that the department - known
internationally as the birthplace of cultural studies - was indeed being
restructured. Although not confirmed, it seems likely that 11 staff jobs
will be lost, leaving an estimated 210 students unsure of where they will be
doing their degrees in September.
Staff received letters on June 20 informing them that the department would
close "in its present form".
Sociology would be assimilated into the social policy and social work
department, while the media, culture and society programme (MCS) would be
absorbed into the institute of applied social studies.
The letter explains that the restructuring is taking place "against a
backdrop of the outcome of the 2001 research Assessment Exercise". The
university planned to maximise the number of five and five star ratings in
the next exercise. The department had scored a 3A.
Laura Topham who was expecting to go into her third year in the department
in September, found the note this morning.
She said: "The department comes out top in the teaching score year after
year. It was the first cultural studies department and you won't find a
cultural studies book without a reference to us. This was the best course I
thought I could do, and Birmingham is supposed to be reliable. But it seems
they don't do enough research."
The department scored the maximum of 24 points in the teaching quality
assessment last year. Degrees are highly popular with 600 applications last
year for 40 places on the MCS course. Sociology is rated highest in the
Guardian league tables every year they've been running.
Staff and students are angry at the way the department was closed. While
rumors have been rife in the last few months, staff only received the
letters informing them on the last day of term, too late to inform students
of what would be happening.
"None of us have been officially told, we are coming back in September not
knowing what to. Someone's been told that we have to take courses in other
departments, but none of our courses we chose to do are running. I'm
supposed to be working on my dissertation over the summer, but my
dissertation tutor has left and I don't know whether I will get the right
support for it," said Ms Topham.
"It's a nightmare - we want to go to our department to find out what's
happening, but no one's there," said the student, adding that she was
considering moving to another university rather than risk not being
supported properly in her dissertation.
Dave Hall, the university's academic registrar, said that students had been
consulted over the restructuring throughout the term, and that a meeting
with students had been arranged for next week and an email sent out to
Alice Wratten, a third year CMS student, said she had not been involved in
consultation. "At the end of term we had a dissertation lecture and we were
told that there might be a couple of redundancies after the summer and that
they might change. On the June 14 I asked my tutor and she said she didn't
have a job next term," she added.
"It's been very hard to get any contact with the university. I haven't
received an email about a meeting. We know that some of the lecturers have
gone, but we don't know how extensive this is. Nobody knows anything."
But Dave Hall wanted to reassure students. "The degrees will be continuing,
we're not closing the subject, we're restructuring the department," he said.
Cultural studies is taught across departments, he added, so other suitable
tutors would be found for courses and the majority of courses would remain
in tact and students would receive all the support they could offer.
The department had 15 members of staff. In the letter sent to them ,
professor Stuart Croft said that a "fixed and limited" number of posts would
remain. He goes on to outline four posts available and invites staff to meet
with him to discuss them, or "enhanced terms" of early retirement or
But the university said, when asked if there would be job cuts: "None at
this stage. The changes will be important for some staff; we are currently
in discussion with a very small number about their individual position."
She confirmed that the department was being restructured because it went
down in the RAE rankings this year.
The university now has a five-year plan that states that all departments
must achieve at least a four in the RAE. The decision was made in
yesterday's council meeting to restructure, she said, adding that the
university and the school of social studies believed the decision to be the
"best way forward".
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