Students, artists and arts organisations have reacted with anger and dismay at an announcement by Falmouth University that it is to close its long standing and well respected Contemporary Crafts BA (Hons) degree course.

The university announced the cessation of the course, along with the closure of degrees in Digital Media and Theatre, in a statement on 5 November. It stated there will be no new intake for the 2015 academic year and cited running costs, changing employment trends and a fall in applicants to crafts courses nationally as reasons for the closure.

An online petition, Oppose Falmouth University closing the Contemporary Crafts degree, demanding the university, the director of Falmouth School of Art and the vice chancellor reconsider the decision, has already reached just short of 6,000 signatures.

The course, which was established in 1976, covers a broad range of skills, processes and materials, but has historic roots in Cornwall’s pottery and ceramics industry. Those who oppose the closure say it is still vital to the economy and creative culture of the region.

The news came just days before Crafts Council launched its Education Manifesto for Craft and Making in response to a worrying trend of course closures, and as students from across the country prepare to take part in a demonstration calling for ‘Free education’, in London on 19 November.

Costly and space intensive

In a statement, the university said it is ‘proud of the recognition many of the graduates of the Contemporary Crafts course have achieved’ but claimed the course was ‘the university’s most costly and space intensive subject area’, and one which is ‘of diminishing interest to students’.

Adding that it could not ‘maintain the course’s space needs and intensely process-led curriculum without significant cross-subsidy from other subject areas’, the statement goes on to say that ‘a decline in applications to crafts courses nationwide makes continuing investment difficult to justify, cross-subsidy or not’.

The university says it will instead be ‘investing in new areas of provision, such as Digital Games, Computing for Games and Business Entrepreneurship’, in order to extend its international reach and to align with the economic development priorities of the region.

The statement ends with a reassurance that the decision will not affect current students who will all be able to complete their chosen course of study with ‘no reduction in the teaching and resources available to them’.

Closure misjudged

A statement by the Contemporary Crafts petition group dismisses the university’s claims, saying that links between the course and the wider economy cannot be underestimated with ‘ex graduates flourishing county- and country-wide and internationally’. It is also states that taking economic factors as a reason for closure are misjudged and that ‘sometimes the right choice is not about money’.

The statement continues: ‘As we… increasingly lose the skills to make things and forget that not everyone wants to pursue academic studies, this is a course which applauds creativity and talent and maintains the nation’s skill bases. How can it be appropriate to close down one of the country’s few excellent facilities?’

‘The Contemporary Craft course isn’t just about learning and training in a skill, it is about pushing boundaries, discovering new processes, working with inspirational peers and lecturers, and most of all a chance to explore who you are as a maker. Let’s not lose something with such personal, regional and national importance.’

Echoing these views, current student Alex Azul Falconer has challenged the university’s claims around employment trends stating that, taking into account self-employment, the course has 88% employment rate.

Speaking to National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, he said: “We feel our university is being stripped of its values as a diverse, creative institution that provides a whole range of different artistic platforms. Instead we are now getting a profit-driven university that cares more about finances, employability and league tables than it does about the university experience.”

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