Published on 13 January 2020
The University’s career-focused and professions-facing approach to its curriculum was endorsed by its Board of Governors at a meeting on Thursday 9 January 2020.
The governors agreed that all subjects and programmes in the University should be educationally and financially sustainable, align with a particular employment sector, fit within the University’s overall strategy and be of a consistently high-quality.
In coming to these decisions, the governors accepted that there would be more focus on subject areas of current or potential strength. These include health-related disciplines where the University has grown both the subject mix on offer – most recently through opening programmes in medicine, physiotherapy and occupational therapy – and the number of students recruited. To support this growth, the University has invested in its staffing base – recruiting over 60 new academics over the last two years, in subjects including health sciences and business and management.
The University has also increased student numbers in education programmes and those in the arts and creative industries, with opportunities for additional growth still to come. Meanwhile work is underway to further develop areas of importance to the regional and national economy and those that provide clear routes into employment. These include engineering, computer science and business.
Consistent with the career-focused approach, governors agreed that the University should withdraw from offering courses in modern foreign languages, history and politics. Research and other activities in these areas will cease too.
At the start of this academic year, no students joined modern foreign languages programmes, either at undergraduate or postgraduate level. In history, 14 undergraduate students were enrolled and no postgraduate students; and there were 15 undergraduate students recruited to a combined politics and history degree.
Chair of the Board of Governors, John Mowbray, said: “While recognising the value of the subjects the University is withdrawing from, the Board of Governors agreed that they do not fit with the curriculum principles of being career-focused and professions-facing. Nor are they of a size and scale to be educationally viable in the medium to long term, given the competition from other institutions, both regionally and nationally.”
The governors also agreed that undergraduate degrees in public health would be withdrawn because of the relevance of the course, particularly in relation to the workforce needs of regional NHS partners. There were 17 undergraduate students recruited this academic year.
In addition, all post-graduate taught degrees across the University will now be subject to more rigorous sustainability tests, with an expected minimum number of 15 students per programme.
It is anticipated that 34 academic staff will be affected by these changes (of whom 20 are part-time).
In a message to staff and students, Sir David Bell, the University’s Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, said:
“I can assure the whole University community that the withdrawal of subjects will be handled properly and with care. Formal consultation with the affected staff will begin soon. Our students will be looked after in a way that is consistent with the Student Protection Plan that was agreed by the Office for Students.”
John Mowbray, added: “In recent years, the University of Sunderland has invested in many new and improved facilities in its areas of key strength and growth. These include health, education and business, with more planned that will benefit engineering, computer science and the arts and creative industries. As a result of this strategy, the University has benefitted from increased student numbers and an improving financial position through careful and prudent financial management.”
The University also plans to meet the needs of students by streamlining its approach to the delivery of the curriculum and adopting more flexible systems that are simpler to understand and administer.
Sir David Bell, concluded: “Through the decisions made by the Board of Governors, we now have a clearly established rationale for our approach to the University curriculum and the subjects we offer.
“We are well-positioned to achieve further growth – and therefore future educational and financial sustainability – in those subject areas with the greatest potential for expansion. In particular, this newly confirmed approach will focus on the potential for technology and business-related programmes to increase substantially in size, alongside the already planned growth in health and other areas. Our academic-related processes should also be more efficient and effective, and thus easier for students and staff to operate.
“The time is right for us to reassert and re-orientate the University’s identity and purpose as we develop further a coherent and high-quality curriculum. As demonstrated in recent years, the University of Sunderland is prepared to put time, effort and money to back areas of success. We are doing this again now, and will continue to do so in the future.”