Happy New Year Swansea! It’s now January 3rd, and unless you’re the unlucky recipient of a three-day hangover, the world has recovered from the antics of Friday evening. A new year is ahead of us, with new year’s resolutions being made left right and centre. Being a brand spanking new blog, an outlook on The Siren‘s 2010 would be redundant, and a very short post indeed, only having made one post in all of 2010! So we’d like to concentrate on something that has dominated the first few months of the 2010-2011 academic year not only here at Swansea University, but across the UK.
Where the landscape of Higher Education is concerned, 2010 will be remembered as the year which saw the systematic slicing and dicing of departmental funding and the lifting of the cap on tuition fees. Across the UK, before and after the election, reports of budget cuts in Universities have been consistent. Some departments have suffered heavy losses in staff, while others have shut down completely. The latter was the case in Middlesex University in April when its Philosophy Department was shut down, despite it being the University’s highest-rated research subject. The move has drawn significant criticism from students and academics alike, with protests continuing today.
Here in Swansea, we’ve faced our own cuts crisis, with the proposed cuts to the Modern Languages Department gaining national and international attention. These cuts, under the guise of ‘restructuring proposals’, threaten to slash the department almost in half, leaving Italian with no academic staff whatsoever. Since the proposals were announced, the outcry in protest has been loud and clear.The use of social networking has been key in shaping this very modern protest, as students made use of Facebook, Twitter and blogging mediums to make their voices heard.
The threat of cuts is not the only shadow looming over Higher Education; the issue of tuition fees was a contentious one during the election,and with the coalition being between two parties with very differing opinions on tuition fees, it remained to be seen whether the Liberal Democrats would uphold their pledge to campaign against rising tuition fees. Unfortunately, it became clear that such pre-election promises were worthless, with anger culminating in the events of the 10th of November 2010, the day of the NUS march against cuts and fees. While certain news outlets may have tarred every student with the same brush due to the violence exhibited by a minority, the march made the position of the students in the UK abundantly clear. The pre-election promises have not been forgotten.
Back in Swansea, the protest against the MFL cuts was gaining momentum, with F.I.G.S (The French, Italian, German and Spanish committees united) leading the protest with gusto. The Waterfront reported that the department had already felt the slice of the cuts with the loss of Russian, Portuguese and Catalan from the curriculum. The Funeral for Modern Languages, a march in protest of the cuts, was organised for the 6th of December 2010, the day the University was set to vote on the proposals. Students who has previously completed years abroad received invitations to a celebration of the University’s study abroad programme, scheduled for the very same day as the protest. Whether or not this was intentional remains to be seen, but the University eventually postponed the event. Over a hundred students attended the protest from all walks of University life, with the History Society and key members of Swansea University’s Executive Committee showing solidarity with the Modern Foreign Languages students. Carrying a coffin into Singleton Abbey, the protest took over campus, even blocking a cement delivery at one point in the afternoon. The issue remains to be resolved, as the decision has been postponed until March 2011.
That week in December was a busy one for protesting, as Westminster was set to decide on whether or not to lift the cap on tuition fees on Thursday the 9th of December 2010. Protests in Swansea kicked off in Castle Square, while scenes from London were once again the focus of the media’s attention. The bill for tuition fees may have passed, but that doesn’t mean that the protesting is over. At the time of writing, five students at The University of Kent are occupying the university’s Senate building for the 26th day. Scrambling for legal help, University officials are making attempts to vacate them from the premises, but a core five have remained for the duration of Christmas in a stand against the cuts and the tuition fees.
We here at The Siren believe that the fees represent a massive shift in a negative direction for Higher Education. For Welsh domicile students, there is some good news; the Assembly plans to foot the extra costs for Welsh students attending any UK University, but this still leaves English students in the lurch. We also believe that if the Government is set to make consumers out of students, then the quality of degrees should improve, not decrease because of cuts. 2010 saw a complete change to the face of Higher Education, and not for the better.
As for our outlook for 2011? We don’t expect it to be a quiet one, that much is certain.