Protests over disability course closure force Manchester University to relocate launch event amid security fears

By Eve Commander

Security concerns arising from angry protesters have caused the University of Manchester to move a launch event on Tuesday back to the safety of their campus.

The University of Manchester, who intended to hold a formal launch event for their revised ‘Social Responsibility Mission’ in John Rylands Library, have changed the venue after campaigners said they would stage a protest.

The demonstration is against the University’s decision to close its internationally acclaimed Learning Disability Studies course, which was made in August.

A University of Manchester spokesman said: “Given the prospect of a protest, the main campus was considered to be a more appropriate venue.”

Protestors state the University’s decision, taken without the consultation of its students was ‘socially irresponsible’ and will be staging a demonstration on campus at 2pm.

Barbara Perry, a course graduate, said: “Unbelievably the University does not think it is socially irresponsible to close the Learning Disability Studies course.

“So why would students not feel the necessity to demonstrate at the University’s formal revised Social Responsibility mission launch event on Tuesday 19th November?”

Several organisations and academics in the field of Learning Disability and members of the University’s Learning Disability Studies Partnership Steering Group (PSG) have appealed against the decision.

More than 960 people have now signed an e-petition appealing against the closure which was set up in October.

Local MPs including Ivan Lewis, Graham Brady and Andrew Bingham have also written on behalf of some of the protesters against the decision.

However, students say the University’s lack of co-operation and unresponsiveness has forced them to take more drastic action.

Ms Perry said: “The students are angry because the University did not consult them about the closure and have not acknowledged the value of this course or its 100% National Student Survey score.

“We have expressed the value of the course in the recent staff Social Responsibility consultations, and sent letters of concern about the closure to Nancy Rothwell, the University of Manchester’s vice Chancellor and the Board of Governors.

“But these unconvincing and fruitless meetings with the University management have not worked. Campaigners are left with no option but to protest more loudly.”

Protestors also believe that the university ‘unfairly obstructed’ the application process.

“They did not take into account the fact that the course has always taken applications throughout the summer and into September,” Ms Perry explained.

“They expected the course to rigidly only accepted applicants who got ABB grades, which meant some were turned away who would have been accepted in previous years.

“They also prevented the course from going into Clearing unlike other undergraduate courses in the Institute of Education.”

The University of Manchester course is unique and highly esteemed by professionals because it promotes the need for self-advocacy for people with disabilities.

Max Neil is on the Lancashire Board Member for the Learning Community for Person Centred Practices and has signed the e-petition against the course closure.

He said: “Learning Disability Studies is a unique course in the UK.

“The position of this particular group in society’ in the disabled people’s movement, and the practices developed by self-advocates and their allies are all worthy subjects for study.”

Recent reviews of scandals like those at the Winterborne and Vielstone Care Homes, where care workers were arrested for abusing disabled patients, have also highlighted the need for the type of training the University course teaches.

However, campaigners said the University is more concerned with meeting academic and PR targets.

Ms Perry said: “The course itself is not valued or acknowledged. The University is more interested in numbers, monitoring and targets than helping to improve the lives of learning disabled people.

“I believe this essential but relatively small area of study has been overlooked or cast aside in the interests of the University creating and maintaining an elitist image for PR purposes.”

She added: “The term ‘learning disability’ and anything associated with it does not have a place in that business world branding. This devaluation of learning for disabled people mirrors society’s attitudes.”

The University of Manchester intend to give their support for the remaining students on the undergraduate course but the poor uptake means it is no longer unsustainable to run.

A University spokesman said: “Despite efforts to address this, we do not believe that we will be able to recruit sufficient students in the future to make this programme sustainable or to maintain the quality of the programme.”

“We will continue to support our students to ensure they receive the high quality programme and standard of teaching they expect, up to the end of the course in three years.”

Image courtesy of Gene Hunt, with thanks

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