Ever since I graduated in 2012, the threat of redundancies has hung over the staff at Hull School of Art and Design, like the blade of a guillotine. With the announcement made earlier this month by Hull College Group, that 231 jobs were to be lost under the guise of ‘rebuilding’, management have now dealt staff the cruelest blow yet.
If all those job losses weren’t bad enough, those who escape the 30% cut across the three campuses of Hull, Harrogate and Goole, will have to reapply for their positions on less advantageous terms and conditions.
Described by the new Chief Executive Officer Michelle Swithenbank as an ‘opportunity for restructuring and rebuilding’ these drastic measures come at a time when Hull College Group have a 10m budget deficit and have accepted a Fresh Start package worth 54 m from the Govt.
Always the poor relation, Hull School of Art and Design – which had been performing well thank you very much – had its financial autonomy wrestled away by the bigger more powerful Hull College. The good work that HSAD was trying to do was constantly undermined by a less-than supportive Chief Exec and a management that were busy devising a way to reduce spending on the degree courses, delivered at HSAD.
What I find particularly galling is learning that the B.A. courses, with their 15 hour tutor contact time, are to become shared Foundation Degree courses, with only eight hours of direct tutor contact. A search of the Higher Education Statistics Agency data confirms that Foundation Degrees have been declining in popularity faster than any other sort of degree. On top of that the proposal to bundle two subjects to make one FD course is reprehensible.
In 2009 I was one of the first to complete the newly devised Digital Media Journalism course. It was a forward-thinking course, with knowledgeable lecturers and a good reputation and relations with local news outlets.
We maintained the first hyperlocal news portal in Hull – reporting on the changing fortunes of Hull’s Fruit Market area and accomplished a number of other notable successes. I came away with a First Class degree, the Dean’s Prize for Excellence and subsequently the course gained professional accreditation from the Broadcast Journalism Training Council, the only course nationally in a Further Education college to do so. Now it is to be axed.
The proposed changes will dramatically change Hull School of Art and Design, with a knock on effect to the community and wider city. The move for more online resources to deliver distance and blended learning adversely affects the digitally poor. I would be unable to achieve with that learning model, I achieved the vast majority of my degree, without actually owning my own laptop. The changes also affect the widening participation agenda, negatively impacting upon those who learn differently and local students who cannot study elsewhere. Reduced hours means less contact, brings about less opportunity for all the unquantifiable things associated with being part of a learning environment. Much of the learning at HSAD is experiential and achieved by discussion and sharing of experience and practice.
With no BA(Hons) degree courses being offered across the school, only students who can afford to look elsewhere will be able to access gold standard Higher Education. Older students with family responsibilties, those coming back to education later in life who do not have the option to move cities or live in student accommodation will be disadvantaged.
It is an absolute farce that the current crop of students are being told that courses they signed up and paid through the nose for, will now be cutting the number of tutor contact hours from 15 to 9 hours a week. Is there any wonder they are threatening to sue Hull College, when they are being treated like commodities, their value raised and lowered as markets dictate. And if these students are to be seen as consumers then deliver what they have already paid for.
The ‘refreshed approach to delivery’ and talk of previous ‘over-delivering’ wheeled out repeatedly by Chief Executive Officer Michelle Swithenbank is insulting. Her department is spinning the story so fast it is a wonder it hasn’t been put forward as an alternative to wind turbines.
I am in the privileged position of being able to say something, others in the employ of Hull College cannot speak out as they are threatened with disciplinary action.
In the last years, Hull School of Art and Design underwent an imaginative rebranding using the highly visible #DareToBeDifferent campaign. The campaign gained positive attention, the school attracted support from Hull 2017 and was assigned Freedom of Expression Centre status by Bob and Roberta Smith. Those colourful signs screaming All Schools Should Be Art Schools and Why Do We Communicate? would now sit very awkwardly in the foyer of Hull School of Art and Design.