Three-D Issue 35: Chair’s report

Einar Thorsen
Bournemouth University

I want to thank our previous Chair Anita Biressi, who has done an incredible job in the role over the past three years and as a member of the Executive Committee for many more. I am pleased she is staying on the committee and continuing to work on existing initiatives — including ongoing review of how MeCCSA respond to issues of diversity and inclusion.

MeCCSA will continue to play an active role on your behalf in responding to Government consultations relevant to subjects in our field — and as usual you will find our most recent responses in this issue of Three-D.

2021 promises to be a busy year for us all with a number of FE and HE consultations and reviews. In January we got treated to: the FE Skills White paper, Post-Qualification Admissions Reform Consultation, the Government’s (interim) take on Augar regarding HE funding, publication of the Pearce TEF review with the DfE’s response (subject level TEF is scrapped), and much more!

The interim response to the Augar Review, reviewing post-18 education and sector funding is worth noting since it indicates our fields as a likely pressure point. Gavin Williamson published Guidance to the Office for Students outlining changes to the allocation of the Higher Education Teaching Grant funding in the 2021-22 Financial Year. In this letter the Education Secretary outlines specific changes to the T-Grant, that effectively redefines priorities for what is classified as a high-cost subject. Ostensibly it identifies ‘strategically-important’ high-cost subjects that should be prioritised, and everything else high-cost will have a 50% cut in funding to support the strategy. Where it gets interesting is in the second part of Appendix D of the letter, which describes the introduction of a new C3 classification “that contains high-cost non-strategic subjects previously in C1”. Or to spell it out, as they do in the footnote: “The subjects moving from C1 to C3 are Art and Design, Music, dance, drama and performing arts, Media studies and Archaeology.” And: “As proposed by the reforms, subjects that move from C1 to C3 see a reduction of 50% in funding rates compared to AY20/21. Strategic subjects in price-groups A, B and C1 see a 13% increase in funding rates, which is due to an increased funding allocation for strategic subjects.”

The letter — and arguably the way ‘media studies’ is singled out during announcements — signals an attack on the perceived strategic value of our disciplines, which has potential to undermine student recruitment and investment in our subject areas. In extremis it might lead to disinvestment at some HEIs too, leaving members in an (even more) precarious situation.

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on everyone, and forced us to think differently in the past year as we adopted to work from home and life with physical distancing rules in place. We decided early in the pandemic to postpone the Annual MeCCSA Conference in 2021 to such a time that we could host it on campus, in person. We held the 2021 Annual General Meeting via Zoom, and for the first time conducted an electronic ballot for the Executive Committee elections. The latter was an effective way of engaging more colleagues with the democratic process of MeCCSA and we will likely continue this in future — perhaps with the option of an in-person ballot during the Annual Conference itself.

The postponement of the 2021 conference also gave rise to an age old debate about the timing of our annual event, and possible alternative dates. There is never an ideal time to change a pattern that has become tradition, but the disruption caused by the pandemic provided an opportunity for the Executive Committee to rethink our scheduling. We deliberated this on a number of occasions and eventually agreed on moving our Annual Conference from January to September, starting with Robert Gordon University hosting in September 2022. There will be another online Annual General meeting in January 2022, to ensure we comply with the association’s constitutional requirements, and we will use this as an opportunity to also host a series of associated activities. We will keep you posted!

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