STUDENTS FROM the University of Wales, Swansea, are refusing to allow their institution to be turned into a Thatcherite business. The university has been shaken by massive protests at the announced closure of Sociology, Anthropology, Philosophy, Chemistry and the Centre for Development Studies.
Last Friday over 500 people took part in an angry protest against the closures. The protest was supported by the lecturers' union (AUT), Unison and the student union. We marched to the vice-chancellor's office but he was nowhere to be found. The protest came after a 500-strong student general meeting earlier in the week. On Wednesday of last week there were also large union meetings held by the university workers' AUT, Unison and Amicus unions.
Anger among students and lecturers was deepened because they first heard of the closure plan via the media. The university's 'Going for Growth' plans purport to concentrate on the more popular and successful degrees, by axing subjects 'in decline'. Far from being 'in decline' applications for the Centre for Development Studies increased by 49.4 percent in 2003-4, and those in Chemistry have increased by 91 percent since 1998.
Vice-Chancellor Richard B Davies addressed the emergency Student General Meeting and claimed his plan was a 'strategic' move and claimed students were outdated in their opposition to the axing of popular subjects.
The plan is part of his bid to turn Swansea into a 'world class' institution by cutting those departments supposedly incapable of 'world class' research. This 'realist' highfalutin talk amounts to nothing more than a defence of his position.
Davies did not reveal, when questioned, how much he earns (approximately £140,000 pounds a year), nor would he entertain any idea of taking a pay cut. Students were not only concerned for their current degrees, but were also worried that proposals would push Swansea (a university that takes in a high quota of working class students) towards charging variable top-up fees.
If these proposals are defeated it is certain to make other vice-chancellors think twice about attacks on the heart and soul of their institutions. The mood at the university was illustrated by one student from Development Studies on last Friday's protest, who said, 'Today we are banging on his door to be heard. If he doesn't listen next time we will kick the door down and throw the vice-chancellor out of his office.'
We now need urgent action. The university plans to cut all five departments from the UCAS application catalogue this September.
Lydia Antoniou, student
Mike Pany, lecturer Swansea University