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Protests at University of Birmingham over plans for sociology department

Lecturers facing redundancy at the University of Birmingham over plans to close their department have accused internal managers of a cynical PR offensive among students.

Lecturers facing redundancy at the University of Birmingham over plans to close their department have accused internal managers of a cynical PR offensive among students.

More than a dozen academic jobs have been put at risk at the leading research institution following a review of the Department of Sociology.

Staff and students, who staged a protest rally on the giant Edgbaston campus on Wednesday, fear that the university’s College of Social Sciences is to effectively close the department, resulting in the media, culture and society degree programme being scrapped.

Campaigners, who have so far collected more than 5,000 names on an online petition, claim this would result in only three staff being retained, and the rest – comprising 14 academics and two support staff – being made redundant.

Lecturers within the sociology department have taken the unprecedented step of writing to all students, saying they were now able to talk openly about the situation.

The letter, obtained by the Birmingham Post, said: “Needless to say, we totally reject the proposals of the College board.

“Virtually all the staff who have designed and currently deliver the programmes will be gone under the proposals.

“We find it cynical that the review process completely ignored students but now the College management are trying to launch a PR offensive by inviting you to a further series of ‘meetings’, and sending letters trying to claim that your degrees will be unaffected.”

The lecturers said they were now asking all students to join them in opposing the attack on their education, their jobs, and the department they had all worked so hard to develop.

Hundreds of staff and students staged an hour-long demonstration outside the Aston Webb building on Wednesday as part of their campaign.

They will take their fight to the University Council, its governing body, on November 26 to try to persuade it to reject the proposals, which involve the sociology degree programme being transferred to social policy.

A university spokesman said the wide-ranging review of the sociology department had involved extensive discussion including senior academic and support staff as well as regularly updating sociology students.

“The recommendations of the review group were that sociology will remain as an academic discipline at Birmingham, but as one element within a wider school.

“It also recommended that the college withdraw from teaching activity in media, culture and society over a period of time as existing students graduate.

“If these recommendations are adopted this will mean a gradual reduction in staff numbers.”

Sue Blackwell, who teaches in the English department and is also an officer of the University and College Union, said: “Three members of staff simply cannot cope with the diversity of the course, and students will suffer. It will increase the workload and morale will be at rock bottom.”

Those taking part in the protest included John Narayan, a PHD student and teaching assistant in the department. He said staff and students were fully united.

“We will not let this go because education is so important to everyone here.

“We’ve not been consulted, we’ve not been given a choice, or a say, so this is our chance to be heard.”

Mia Taylor, a first year sociology student, said she was worried about what lies ahead.

“I came here because it was one of the best universities in the country for my specific course,” she said.

“But I never thought in my first eight weeks that I would have to worry about my last year. Well I am now because three staff will not be able to cope with everything our group needs.”

Further information can be found at www.bit.ly/brumuni

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