Three-D Issue 16: Chair’s report

Sue Thornham
University of Sussex

This edition features the report on the 2011 conference, and some very buoyant reports from our networks and sections. Once again it’s terrific to see the expansion of MeCCSA activities and the health of the networks and conference which are so central to what we do.

The climate in which this is occurring is not so healthy, of course. On March 17th English universities received their grant letters from HEFCE, setting out the reductions in grant funding that will apply not only next year, but also for the rest of this year. The news is once again grim, with overall national cuts in the teaching grant of 4% next year and reductions in research funding for most of us as the focus is tipped yet further towards research rated 4* in the last RAE. Also announced, but less headlined, have been the accompanying cuts in HE capital funding of 60%.

Further ahead, the picture is extraordinarily confused. On 25th February David Willetts announced a delay in the publication of the Higher Education White Paper. All the Government’s planning had been based on universities setting an average fee of £7500. As that seems increasingly unlikely, strategies and sums will have to be re-thought. In the meantime, OFFA’s guidance on what universities will have to do in terms of widening access if they want to charge more than £6000 finally appeared on 6th March. The deadline for submission of universities’ plans is 19th April – before the publication of the White Paper which was to have provided the context for their decisions. Beyond that, we know that HE will be opened up to private providers and that universities will be asked whether they should be able to take additional self-funding students – an even greater move towards privatisation and increased inequality of access. And finally, no-one seems to have thought about how postgraduate study should be costed and funded.

All of this will affect all of us. Whatever fees our individual universities charge, as a subject area recognised by HEFCE to be ‘semi-lab’ based and therefore costing more than other humanities subjects to deliver, but not coming within the protected STEM subjects envelope, Media Studies will be particularly vulnerable. Two further cuts – less direct, but important to our field – are also worth mentioning here. The first is that of the HEA Arts, Design and Media Subject Centre at Brighton, which will disappear in July 2012. Faced with a 30% funding cut, the HEA decided to disband its 24 Subject Centres and retain only its central organisation. Many of us have benefited from HEA ADM funding. In particular, MeCCSA’s postgraduate network has received funding each year to support its conference, and we are very grateful to the Subject Centre and in particular to the support of its Academic Developer, Debbie Flint.

The second area of cuts was an issue raised at the MeCCSA AGM in January: the cuts to the BFI. The threats that this poses to the BFI collections, and to access to them by researchers, is of grave concern to many MeCCSA members. In response to the motion passed at the AGM, we shall be meeting with the BFI in April. In the meantime, we print here the response by Heather Stewart, its Cultural Programme Director, to our statement of concern.

Finally in this report, however, I want to return to the point I made at the beginning. In this very uncertain climate, MeCCSA continues to expand and to reflect the strengths of our field. You will find evidence of that throughout this issue of Three-D.

Posted by Einar Thorsen