THE furore over the controversial proposals by Glasgow University to end the teaching of a number of subjects and reduce the provision of evening and weekend courses has caused the court at Gilmorehill to extend the consultation period by six weeks.
This is a highly sensible move. First, it recognises the conscientiousness of the consultation panels considering the effects of specific proposals, which have requested more time to evaluate the recommendations. Secondly, and more significantly, delaying the date for the court’s decision until June 22 ensures that it will be taken after a new Scottish Government is in place. That will still be in advance of a new higher education funding package but at least the future basis for resourcing universities should be clearer.
The controversial package of cuts is designed to save £3 million as part of a strategy to reduce costs by £20 million in savings by 2012/13. The proposals, which include ending the teaching of a number of modern languages, particularly German, Russian and Polish, closing the department of nursing and reducing the provision of evening and weekend courses, have prompted passionate, high-profile and widespread opposition.
The proposed cuts came after the principal, Professor Anton Muscatelli, warned the university would run out of money by 2013 if it took no action to address a reduction in public funding but the reaction has prompted a sustained debate on our Letters Pages about the role of a university as well as the merits of the courses at risk.
At a time when Scottish universities are facing a funding gap of potentially £150 million, widespread public discussion of how that can best be filled is vital. Glasgow University, however, has provided a lesson in how not to swing an axe. Other institutions should take careful note if they value their reputation for learning.
Has Strathclyde University, which shares the same home city, signally failed to learn from Glasgow’s example? Its proposals to close the Ramshorn Theatre and the Collins Gallery, close its department of music and make the post of director of music redundant have provoked considerable protest only a day after the plans were revealed by The Herald. The timescale for consultation, which requires objections to be lodged by April 21, is even shorter than that originally set by Glasgow University and, even in an age of instant communication, could severely curtail what should be a reasonable timescale for a considered response.
Strathclyde argues that the areas earmarked for closure are not essential for the delivery of the university’s academic programmes. That suggests a failure to appreciate the part played by the theatre, the gallery and the musical performances in the wider cultural life of the city. That factor must be weighed in the final decision against the saving of around £300,000. Hastening slowly would surely produce a better result.
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