Roehampton University Student Union voted to oppose a proposed £3.2 million cut to the School of Arts and Humanities last Monday.
A campaign led by the Roehampton Students Saving Arts and Humanities (RoeSSAH) collective supported the vote against funding cuts that call for up to 40 staff in the department to take voluntary severance.
The University and College Union’s staff representatives say that they too are against any redundancies and feel that the decision is because of longstanding plans to restructure rather than financial pressures caused by the pandemic.
Paul Hughes, a campaign supporter and dance PhD candidate at the university, said: “For someone who is 18, who has just graduated from school, who is in their first year of their study entering into the world of the pandemic and then on top of that, potentially being trapped in a three year course that just completely fails to support them to do the thing they’ve been working towards for years, it just feels hideous.
“It feels totally shameful.”
Cuts to the department were introduced in May when a voluntary severance scheme was floated by the university.
The university held meetings with students to explain the cuts and their consequences but many felt dissatisfied by the lack of information.
Hughes said: “We know that even for this year, students might be completely cheated out of the excellent education that they were hungry for and sold on.
“What’s seemed very apparent in the meetings with management is that they just don’t have any sensitivity to the specificity of Arts and Humanities training, and really profound misunderstandings of the particular needs of educating and undertaking research.”
The second round of suggested cuts led to the creation of the RoeSSAH collective.
The proposed cuts would lead to nearly one third of staff in the department to leave.
A spokesperson for the collective said: “A lot of this is fuelled by the rage at senior management.
“We’re really proud of our university and we want to protect it, and the fact that it’s being undermined does bring about a lot of strong emotions.
“We have endless faith in our staff, we think they’re incredible and that’s what this campaign has been run on.
“We’ve tried to be really positive about the university and about how incredible our staff are, but there are limits. This is unethical and they shouldn’t be put in that position”
The collective encourage supporters to attend its open forums, tweet their opposition through #SaveUoRAH, and sign their collective statement of support.
The spokesperson added: “No-one’s questioning the fact that the university needs to make cuts, that everyone is having financial difficulties at the moment that are because of the coronavirus.
“But for the university to target its highest performing departments in terms of student satisfaction and experience, and research, just didn’t make any sense to us.
“In many ways it feels like our goal is to keep having open conversations among the student body and inform them of what’s happening because the management is keeping them in the dark about all of this.”
Anouska Lester, a PhD candidate who also teaches, supported the collective by signing its statement.
Lester said: “It’s been said so many times that the thing that’s got us through lockdown are the Arts.
“That’s what’s kept us going, that’s what’s given us hope through all of this and brought a bit of joy back to our lives, so I think that’s probably one of the reasons why we feel so protective of it, because it’s already been threatened this year.
“The current government is already threatening it and so now for our university, our home where we study to also be threatening it, is depressing really.”
Fleur Anderson, Labour MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields, supported the campaign by speaking at the first Open Forum held by the collective on Friday 14 November.
Anderson said: “This is a university that the Government should be supporting but it’s not, it’s left it out in the cold.
“So I am standing alongside the staff, the unions, and the students who are campaigning to save the Arts and Humanities department.”
Anderson blames many of the cuts on the inaction of the Government to step in and fill the gap in funding due to the pandemic as has been done in Scotland.
To further support the campaign Anderson took the issue to Michelle Donelan, Minister of State for Universities, to prompt action from the Government.
Anderson noted: “We need a whole diversity of universities.
“I think too many government ministers came from just two universities and it shows in the support that they’re now giving to a fantastic university like Roehampton.
“It’s great that the students have come together to join in this campaign because a united voice is going to be more powerful.
“This should not be left to happen to Roehampton University without some protest.”
A spokesperson from Roehampton University said: “For the past few months we have been implementing a recovery plan to address the severe financial impact from the Covid-19 pandemic and we need to continue on this path to secure our long-term growth.
“To support our long-term sustainability, we are planning to make savings in the Schools of Arts and Humanities where there has been a decline over a number of years in student numbers both nationally and at our own institution.
“These measures will put the Schools on a more sustainable footing to secure their longer-term future and also allow the University to invest in academic areas where the student population is growing.
“For that reason the University Council has endorsed a proposal to reduce the academic payroll in the School of Arts and the School of Humanities to bring them back onto a sustainable path.
“We have reopened a Voluntary Severance Scheme for the academic staff from these two Schools. We aim to secure the identified savings through voluntary measures.
“The significant majority of the academic staff employed across both Schools will continue in roles, even if the proposals are implemented fully, and we will continue to cross-subsidise these areas of our portfolio in the future.
“Despite the savings we are consulting on, we continue to be committed to the arts and humanities and they play a vital role in our future.
“We are living and working through the most uncertain and unprecedented time in recent history and we need to act promptly and decisively to secure our future sustainability.”
You can read more here.
Featured image credit: Becksta1, Creativecommons.org