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Friday, April 16, 1999 Published at 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK


University to close courses in rescue plan

A three-year action plan aims to secure the university's future

Thames Valley University is to close courses and make staff redundant as part of an "action plan" to restore the university's damaged reputation.

Last November the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education criticised standards at the university, leading to the resignation of the vice chancellor, Mike Fitzgerald, and demands for radical improvement from the Education Minister, Baroness Blackstone.

[ image: Sheila Forbes says speculation about the university's future should now stop]
Sheila Forbes says speculation about the university's future should now stop
Now the Higher Education Funding Council is to provide a £7.2m rescue package which over three years will help the university to develop a narrower range of subjects, with the aim of "securing the university's academic and financial future".

The chair of governors, Sheila Forbes, says the plan should put an end to speculation that the university might be "broken up, merged or taken over".

The action plan will mean the closure of 17 course modules in the School of European, International and Social Studies department - cuts which are likely to affect units in modern languages, American Studies and history. However students already at the university will be able to finish their studies.

Redundancies inevitable

The university says that reductions in staff will be "inevitable", but that it will seek to "minimise the impact through redeployment or voluntary severance". A spokesman said no figures for redundancies had yet been decided.

The priority areas, for which the university says there is clear evidence of demand, will be health studies, music and media, hospitality, tourism and leisure, business and management.

The action plan also acknowledges the need for "radical action on quality", with proposals to encourage a "culture of quality" throughout the university. There will also be a shift in resources from administration to teaching.

Vocational courses

Thames Valley's emphasis on providing vocational courses, including part-time courses for local people, is set to continue. The university had previously gained notoriety for offering unusual courses in areas such as rock music and kite-flying.

The recovery plan is seeking to overcome a serious downturn in student numbers, with a 30% shortfall in this year's student intake.

The university, with 28,000 students in campuses in west London and Slough in Berkshire, has pioneered a policy of "mass participation in higher education" with many part-time and mature students.

"No one at the university doubts that there is a tremendous amount of work to do, but the action plan provides us with a very firm basis for moving forward," said Sheila Forbes.

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