Staff and students turn out in force to protest at Bristol University's plan to cut deaf studies
A UNIVERSITY centre that has played a "trailblazing role" in deaf studies could be forced to close its degree course amid money-saving cuts.
Staff and students from the University of Bristol turned out in force yesterday to protest against the potential closure of the BSc Deaf Studies degree programme, something they allege would cause a critical shortage of sign language interpreters.
Large crowds gathered outside Senate House, in Tyndall Avenue, before a meeting to discuss proposals on how the university will make £15 million of savings.
One proposal is that the Deaf Studies Centre, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, would withdraw its undergraduate degree programme, which includes British Sign Language, the social contexts of its use and awareness of deaf culture. Teaching staff would also be at risk of redundancy.
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Although current students would complete their studies, there would be no new undergraduates and the course would close in 2013.
Greg Judge, 20, a third-year student in deaf studies, has set up an online petition to generate support for the degree programme.
He said: "We're hoping to have 2,000 signatures by the end of the day, including many academics from all over the world. We're shocked that this can happen. The Bristol centre is one of only a few in the country offering this degree."
According to local groups there are about 60,000 deaf or hard of hearing people in Bristol and the surrounding area.
Dr Mike Gulliver, 37, a research collaborator at the university, has a PhD in deaf studies. He said: "This is a vital course. There is already a crisis in the deaf community caused by a shortage of interpreters. Every year people leave this course with those skills and, not only that, they learn the importance of the background and legacy behind deafness.
"It's one of the best interpreting programmes on offer. We've come from a situation where deaf people were cared for and not able to express themselves, and making these sort of cuts is a step backwards."
Another third-year student, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "Bristol should be proud to support this pioneering and trailblazing course, it's a forerunner in research and development in an area that has been so often misunderstood and discriminated against."
Supporting the protests were members from trade unions. Tony Macdonald, chair of Unite for technology and craft staff, said the Senate meeting, which will decide whether to send the proposals, including the deaf centre plans, to the university council, was ill-timed as negotiations were still in progress in an attempt to avoid redundancies.
Barry Taylor, communications and marketing director, at the University of Bristol, said: "The faculty of social sciences and law have put together a proposal to withdraw the degree. The course emerged, after research by an independent panel, as an area that needed to be seriously considered. The set of proposals have taken many months of consideration and are part of the university's need to make £15m cuts because of the current economic climate."
A website has been set up at www.savedeafstudies.org.uk.