Controversial changes have been proposed in Neuroscience and Pharmacology within the College of Medical and Dental Sciences, with the college criticised for allegedly breaching University policy. Duncan Kenyon reports.

Education Correspondent. 3rd year History student. Interests: History, Politics, Journalism.
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The University is being lobbied by the Guild of Students to be more transparent about proposed changes to the College of Medical and Dental Sciences (MDS). The cuts are controversial in both their manner, as well as the method with which the College have taken to implement them. The changes come after the recent Research Excellent Framework (REF) report, which ranked some areas as weak performers for University research.

The proposal, made by the College on 4 March, looks to ‘reduce some investment in some elements of Neuroscience/Pharmacology’.  An email sent to all students explains that investment will continue for ‘high quality Neuroscience/ Pharmacology research’ which includes immunology, infection and inflammation. No other areas of research have been highlighted for increased funding.

Although it is unclear what the changes are or the extent of what they will be, many students have begun to worry about the proposal’s effects on their studies. The proposals may impact on undergraduates who have to complete a ten-week research study at the end of their degree, or postgraduate researchers. Nevertheless the email reassures students ‘that maintaining the highest standards of teaching is a priority for the College and [they] are committed to ensuring that any changes as a result of the proposals should not adversely affect [students’] studies.’

'many students have begun to worry about the proposal’s effects on their studies'

An open email by students to Professor Eric Jenkinson states, there is ‘an ever-growing disparity between the needs of the students and the desires of the Medical and Dental Sciences College Board.’ Students have complained that there is no evidence that the cuts will not affect students’ programmes. The open email also claims that the cuts could ‘result in an upwards of 75% of the teaching academics in neuroscience and pharmacology departments being made redundant’.

There are concerns that as a result of a reduction in staff, PhD students and clinicians will have to teach more specialised areas. In addition, a decrease in third year project proposals may means that many more students will have to do ‘dry’ proposals, meaning a reduction in the quality of projects.

A student who wrote the email was told by the College that it represented the ‘view of a small number of students’.

'the cuts could result in an upwards of 75% of the teaching academics being made redundant.'

Joe Armer, Vice President (Education) at the Guild of Students, told Redbrick that the following undergraduate courses are likely to be affected by changes: dentistry, nursing, medical science in addition to PhD courses in neurology.

The College faces criticism as it has allegedly failed to follow University guidelines for keeping students involved in decision-making. According to Article 4.1 of the ‘University of Birmingham Policy on Consulting Students about Major Changes’, the College must circulate information to Student Reps or Student Staff Committees within the department. Information about changes must be posted on noticeboards in the College.

The letter’s authors claim, ‘the College have been so unclear about what’s happening that students don’t know what changes will be made.’

Under University guidelines, there should be one month between the information being publicised and the deadline of feedback from these groups. However, the College submitted these proposals for review without informing Student Reps or the Student Staff Committee and have not put information on noticeboards. Many students remain unaware of the full implications of the proposals.

In addition, the proposals were set out on 4 March and have a deadline of feedback for 22 April. As a result of lobbying from the Guild, a consultation with student representatives has been scheduled for 27 April.

Armer said: ‘It is unacceptable that it has taken lobbying from the Guild for the University to open up consultation to the student body, disregarding long-standing University policy. The Guild is working hard to support any students with concerns around the proposed changes but also to continue to campaign for complete transparency and openness on the proposed changes with all students affected.’

‘It is unacceptable that it has taken lobbying from the Guild for the University to open up consultation'

The deadline for feedback is the 22 April. If the proposal goes ahead, the changes will begin to take effect in May, in preparation for the next academic year.

The university and college have been contacted for a comment, and this article will be updated when one is received.