Cara Chittenden, President Exeter, discusses the decisions surrounding the pause on recruitment for Penryn courses, and what this means for students.
As you’ll probably have heard, the University of Exeter have taken the decision to pause recruitment for the academic year 2021/22 on two of its undergraduate courses at the Penryn Campus: BA English and BEng Mining Engineering. Since the announcement of this decision there has been understandable concern, upset and, in some cases, outrage at rumours that these courses will never reopen.
I’ve been working to try and get some clarity for students on these decisions and reassurance that firstly, these recruitment pauses won’t affect the quality of teaching for current students within these departments and secondly, this pause will be just a pause; not a permanent closure. So, I wanted to give some updates on the situation, starting with the BA English course.
Over recent weeks I’ve been in numerous meetings with the staff members behind the decision to pause recruitment for English including the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Cornwall, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean in the College of Humanities and the Head of Department for Humanities in Cornwall. What has been made clear to me is that the decision to pause recruitment was made very much with students in mind. The BA English course at the Penryn Campus has had dwindling student numbers for several years due, in part, to an issue facing universities nationwide: that fewer people are taking English Literature A-Level nowadays. The English Department at the Penryn Campus has tried to reform the BA English programme on multiple occasions over the last decade to attract more prospective students. Unfortunately, these efforts haven’t had the desired effect of increasing student numbers.
Whilst the BA English course has been able to run successfully so far despite falling numbers, there comes a crunch point where the lack of enrolled students affects the quality of the course. No one wants to be on an English course with barely any module options as there aren’t enough students to fill the classes and stifled literary discussion as there aren’t enough seminar attendees. The University decided to pause recruitment before it reached this stage and, as a Penryn English graduate myself, I agree with their decision. Despite fears that the term “pause” is being used simply to throw students off the scent of what is actually a permanent closure of the English department, the pause is in place to give academic staff time in their schedules to redesign their delivery of English at the Penryn Campus. I’ve been assured that every effort will be made to maintain the presence of English in Cornwall, but it will be delivered in a different way.
After the above was explained to me, I asked if the Head of Humanities would hold an Open Meeting, as I was aware that there were many concerned students, alumni and local residents who would benefit from hearing the explanation behind the recruitment pause and the Universities’ next steps to maintaining the future delivery of English (in some form). This Open Meeting occurred (virtually) on the 17th September and, I believe, was effective at reducing attendees’ anxieties.
Since the Open Meeting, I’ve been seeking clarification on exactly how students are going to be involved in discussions going forward. In order to be successful, discussions need to be a collaborative effort between students and staff and, as mentioned earlier, they need to address two things:
a) How do we make sure that current students studying English aren’t adversely affected by the recruitment pause?
b) How do we redesign the delivery of English at Penryn to be unique, sustainable and successful?
It’s important to note that the University have assured me that staff within the English department are not facing job losses and that the recruitment pause shouldn’t make a difference to the teaching of the English course for current single and joint honours students in Cornwall. Nonetheless, plans are underway to create a staff-student working group, led by the Associate Dean of Education for Humanities, which will make sure that the current student experience is being maintained and prioritised. I will be making sure that English Course Reps and Humanities Subject Chairs are offered the opportunity to engage with any such working groups and proposals (which are already being developed) as to what the future English delivery will be. They’ll also be able to provide feedback on any issues surrounding the English recruitment pause through their SSLCs, our Rep Online System and me.
I recognise that there is also speculation and concern around the recruitment pause for Mining Engineering. I’m currently in discussions with the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Cornwall, the Head of Camborne School of Mines and the Director of Education about setting up a similar style Open Meeting where the University can explain their decision and receive questions from students and alumni (so keep your eyes peeled for an invite to that and prepare your questions!) I’ll then continue to pursue student presence in all future decision making as I am for the English course.
Finally, I recently met with the University of Exeter’s new Vice Chancellor, Lisa Roberts. She assured the Students’ Union Presidents that she has an “exciting and expansive vision for Cornwall” and that any course pauses are definitely NOT indicative of the decline of the Penryn Campus. She’s ambitious and wants to work with us to make sure that the Cornwall Campuses expand and prosper!