Music and maths courses to close as part of Oxford Brookes cuts

University says current cohorts will be the last, blaming declining student numbers

November 17, 2023
Violins playing in an orchestra
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Academics and sector groups have criticised cuts being planned at Oxford Brookes University that include the closure of its music and mathematics courses.

In an open letter published on the social network X, staff at the university said they had been told the current cohort of music students would be the last, with the programme shutting for good in 2026, at which point the “last member of the music staff will have to leave the university”.

In a statement, the university confirmed the planned closure and that its mathematics course would also shut to new applicants, although the subject would continue to be taught as part of other programmes.

The details have emerged after Brookes announced a cost-saving plan this week, with 48 staff at risk of redundancy, in a move it blamed on “external factors” such as rising pay and pensions contributions and the frozen undergraduate fee level.

Music has been taught at the university for 44 years and academics said in their letter that it would be “one of the great ironies of Brookes’ history” that its music course was closing just as a new building with a dedicated performance space was being completed.

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They said music degrees had been “under massive pressure across the country, with the number of students dwindling in the past 10 years” and that Brookes had not been “immune to these trends”.

But staff had been working on developing new specialist programmes to attract new students and “rather than giving us time to explore this properly, the university has decided that was not to be”, the letter said. 

The chair of Music HE, Roddy Hawkins, said he was “heartbroken and devastated at the further destruction of opportunities to study music in the UK” and called on Brookes to reconsider the decision while new programmes were developed.

“We urge vice-chancellor Alistair Fitt, the senior leadership and the board of governors to stop, pause for a moment and to consider the range of exciting ways in which staff and students in the music department at Brookes can contribute towards a future in which musical creativity of all kinds – some known, some yet to be discovered – blossom in spaces such as those currently being built,” said Dr Hawkins, a lecturer in music at the University of Manchester.

The Independent Society of Musicians also urged the university to give staff more time as it expressed “disappointment” at the cuts.

A spokesperson for Brookes said it kept the courses it offered “continuously under review”.

“We propose to close two courses – music and mathematics – to new students for a number of reasons, including declining student numbers enrolling on the programmes,” they added.

“Staff who currently teach on the maths programme will continue to teach maths within other programmes, such as engineering.

“The two courses will not take any new applicants in the next academic year and, subject to the normal consultation and committee processes, will commence a period of ‘teach out’ before final closure in due course when all students have graduated.”

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