Academic staff at Liverpool University are threatening to strike after plans were proposed by management to axe its philosophy, statistics, and politics and communications studies departments following poor research results.
The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) which judges the quality of research from universities and colleges revealed that certain departments at the university are in the “lowest quartile” of research input.
The controversial proposals have left academics, MP’s and students alike infuriated. At a meeting last week The University and College Union (UCU) voted to oppose the closures and possibly prepare for further action.
The UCU reported that the university's vice chancellor, Sir Howard Newby, “refused to discuss a motion put to the senate by UCU calling for a decision on any closures to be delayed until there had been full and open consultation with staff and students.”
Dr Fionnghuala Sweeney, vice president of the Liverpool University UCU branch, said: “The proposals are the work of people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. We are appalled by the contempt shown for staff and students by the university.”
The Liverpool Daily Post claims to have seen internal documents suggesting, “civil engineering, cancer studies, dentistry, American studies and sociology are in need of review ‘as a matter of urgency’.”
Last week the university senate met to discuss the proposed closures. According to official minutes, the university “amended clauses in its proposals to close three departments” resulting in no official confirmation of the closure of any department.
The campaign group Save Our Subjects (SOS) set up by students who oppose the plans, held a spirited protest outside one of the university's main buildings last week while the university senate were meeting inside to discuss the proposals.
SOS received a huge level of support, with over six hundred students and staff participating in the protest, and over two and a half thousand members joining the Facebook group.
Josh Wright, 19, is in his second year at Liverpool University and a member of of SOS. He told The Journal of the importance of the campaign: “SOS opposes the strategic management team and vice chancellor’s plans because these decisions are not based on financial reasons but are instead based on one set of poor RAE results. There were strategic errors in the way the RAE was conducted in these departments.”
He continued: “It is agreed that these departments need to be improved in terms of research. We are in favour of improvement and this is because there were reasons why they performed badly. These departments are under-staffed and under-resourced with very few, if any, staff dedicated wholly to research.”
Mr Wright also pointed out that Liverpool is “a city that has a history of social and political struggle, so it is imperative that these departments stay open.”
He added: “Many students from Liverpool cannot afford to live outside of the city, indeed many of them live at home, and as such it is wrong to deny them an education in these vital areas.”
John Pugh, Liberal Democrat MP for Southport and Liverpool University MA graduate, highlighted the importance of philosophy and other “intellectual based” subjects. In a blog on the Guardian website Mr Pugh wrote: “Studying has both intrinsic and instrumental value, and this is true of all intellectual academic disciplines. Yet this is increasingly being forgotten.”
Pugh described the proposal to axe departments as a “ploy to move up the league tables” and an act of “madness”.
Local Liverpool MP Peter Kilfoyle has “tabled a Commons Motion against the proposals”. A petition to Downing Street is also being gathered.
The shadow home secretary Chris Grayling has also recently visited staff and students in Liverpool, and expressed his concerns about the proposals.
The final decision will go before the senate in June.