Students Planning to Sue University Challenge the Reason for Cuts amid Surprise at Scrapping of Environmental Management Degree Course

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Byline: By Martin Shipton Western Mail

Students planning to sue their university over teaching cuts believe they have uncovered a major scandal that raises serious questions about the way the institution is run.

They have produced evidence suggesting that cuts were introduced before correct legal procedures were followed.

It has also emerged that University of Wales, Newport, is losing a contract worth about pounds 270,000 as a direct consequence of the cuts.

Last month we revealed that a group of undergraduates at the university are pursuing legal action over reductions in teaching time which, they say, devalues their degrees.

Environmental management degree courses at the university are being run down and scrapped from next year.

Students and academics we have spoken to said they found it extraordinary that such courses were going, given the National Assembly's specific commitment to sustainable development and despite being highly praised internationally.

They believe the cuts are being made for financial, not educational reasons. They also have evidence that students have been actively encouraged to leave the courses.

We have seen a series of documents that raise serious concerns about how the reduction in teaching time for students was implemented.

All degree courses are subject to strict validation and quality control procedures before they can be taught. Any proposed changes have to be scrutinised before approval. In the case of teaching hour reductions to the BSc Environmental Management course, the reductions were approved by the university's assistant academic registrar on November 28 last year - more than two months after they had been implemented, and after concerns had been raised by a student with Education Minister Jane Davidson.

Academic sources have suggested to the Western Mail that changes of the scale undertaken should not have been submitted for approval retrospectively, but examined thoroughly in advance of implementation.

Another document indicates that at the time of a staff meeting held on July 22 last year, there was no suggestion that the environmental management course was to be run down and scrapped. Within a month, however, such a proposal was made.

We have also been shown documentation relating to a substantial loss of income to the university as a direct result of ending the environmental management courses. Had the courses remained, it is understood the university would have been on line to earn around pounds 270,000 from a distance learning project developed in conjunction with the Assembly Government and Defra.

There is also concern about a letter sent to the Assembly Government by the university's Deputy Vice Chancellor Dr Peter Noyes following a complaint made to Education Minister Jane Davidson by a student living in her constituency.

The letter says, 'Please note that all adjustments were made with the agreement of the tutors and in discussion with the external examiner for the programme. This is in line with the university mechanisms for adjusting modules and the appropriate procedures for such change have been followed carefully. …