BEHIND THE HEADLINES: The student voices behind planned university cuts
11:36am Wednesday 9th July 2014 in News
Students at the Acorn Centre in Abergavenny (L-R) Kelly Brown, Sharron Clarke, Sally Jones, David Holman and his daughter Tanaka Abigail Shaw, Nikki Wilkins, Janet McCarthy, Annwen Holland, and Kathy Batten (7841174)
LAST month the Argus revealed 100 part-time student places could leave Gwent if cuts proposed by the University of South Wales go ahead this year, while some courses in Caerleon are already being stopped. EMMA MACKINTOSH spoke to some of the students who could be affected.
NO ONE likes to read about matters which affect them in the press before they hear it from the horse's mouth, but that is exactly what happened to dozens of students taking university courses on a part-time basis last month.
The students, some of whom are taking credits towards a Certificate of Higher Education from the University of South Wales (USW), often in community centres or in their local area rather than at a central campus, read how the number of students studying “bite size” and Certificate of Higher Education courses - people, in fact, just like them - “do not generate sufficient income” and, as a result, such courses outside the Heads of the Valleys region could finish in September.
This would remove such provision from Newport, Monmouthshire and parts of Cardiff.
The plans, affecting a department called the Centre for Community Learning, were subject to internal consultation by USW, the deadline for which passed on Friday.
A group of students currently reading for a Certificate of Higher Education in humanistic psychology, whose lectures take place at the Acorn Centre in Abergavenny, got in touch with the Argus after reading the article.
Provision such as theirs - outside of the University of the Heads of the Valleys (UHOVI) region - which involves just 20 credits per term, is in the firing line of cuts.
A letter they received from the university, sent the day after the article was published, states that if the plans go ahead, the students could be out of higher education for up to a year while the university finds a suitable alternative.
The course began in 2010 and has seen the students turn up at the Acorn Centre for two contact hours per week, although they do work at home outside these hours.
The Certificate involves 120 university credits, taken at 20 credits per term, and when complete, is equivalent to one year of a traditional, campus-based full-time degree.
The Abergavenny psychology class had to be split into two groups because it was so popular, students said.
Abigail Shaw, 26, from Abergavenny described the recent news of proposed cuts as "upsetting".
"They are doing it all internally," she said. "There's a creche here for the baby and when she's in full time school hopefully I can do a degree. If they stop this course I won't be able to do that. I know I'm capable of doing a degree because I came here. A lot could change in a year."
Nikki Wilkins, 29, also from Abergavenny said a lot of the course members are working parents with a limited amount of time per week for education.
"This is the only way we can do our studying, if that was taken away that would be the end of it," she said.
"If it goes from here, realistically, we wouldn't attend. Finding a sitter for that amount of time, this is what fits in with our lives and is better than us just being sat at home when we want to get off benefits to provide for our children.
"Being at the age we are now, turning up at college is quite intimidating," she said of a campus environment. "You think, "have I left it too late?"
"Each term we do a different module so we've been talking about what module to do next, and now the rug has been pulled from under us. It is 14 years since I was in school. This has done so much for me, being so convenient on my doorstep. I basically won't go back [into education] until my kids are in school and even then I don't know if I would have the confidence.
"Your children see you trying to work again and think, "if mum can do it I can too". Someone could've come down here and spoken to us about it."
Last month a university spokeswoman said their priority was to safeguard "core provision" in widening access, particularly in the Heads of the Valleys area, adding that outreach provision like that set up in Abergavenny was arranged prior to last year's merger between Glamorgan and the University of Wales, Newport.
The results of the consultation are due to go public this month.
Annwen Holland, 58, also from Abergavenny, said she was angry and upset upon reading about the proposed cuts to courses, while coursemate Sally Jones said some students have built up 100 credits studying part-time and only need 20 more to pass the course.
David Holman, 57, from Gilwern said he believes the amount that qualified students put back into the community in terms of better jobs "far outweighs" any cost.
Two weeks prior to the article, the Argus revealed that USW chiefs were to suspend recruitment to English and history courses based at Caerleon near Newport this year, due to the low number of people signing up.
Upon reading the article, first year English and creative writing student Laura Way, 26, from Newbridge got in touch to say that despite promises that existing students would be able to continue their studies at Caerleon, she was offered either to study at Treforest or to have "guided study" at Caerleon, which would mean limited contact with a tutor or lecturer.
"I haven't had a great deal of information from the university," said Miss Way, who has been living with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome since 2010 and studies part-time.
"Finding out through the press is not how I would want to find out, it really did anger me.
"I don't know how I'm going to be from one day to the next so have an issue with travelling to Pontypridd. Some days I can listen but I can't drive so my mother can take me to Caerleon. There's no understanding of why people have chosen Caerleon over Pontypridd, the problems students might have and how this decision may affect them.
"We should be regarded as much as a full-time student," she said. "I feel let down with the flow of information and the interaction over this decision."
The university's spokeswoman said their "commitment to a sustainable university in Newport is absolutely unchanged" but said that, regarding Caerleon campus itself, the university's estate is being assessed.
She said: "We recognise its importance to the regeneration of the city and the future of the region, and we see the university as a huge part of that.
"In common with the whole higher education sector, the university operates in a hugely competitive market, but no decisions have been taken on the university estate in the long term, and we are now carefully assessing, from the evidence, what the future shape of that estate should be."
Some new courses have also started up at the campus, she said.
In response to Miss Way's circumstances, she insisted that much of the study on both courses is guided study so the course is "not being changed in any way" for current students.
With news of cuts at USW appearing to snowball for Gwent students, many are left wondering when their voice will be heard by the powers that be.
Miss Way said: "The way they've treated some of the students has been quite poor. It feels like a campus closure by stealth."