• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email

Announcements of course closures and job losses at universities prompt concerns of 'existential threat' to theatre and performance studies.

Photo: Kingston University

Concerns have been raised about the future of theatre and performance studies after a series of universities outlined plans to axe courses and reduce staff numbers.
The University of Wolverhampton said it is suspending recruitment for this September to a total of 138 courses, including 19 courses in performing arts at its School of Performing Arts.

Meanwhile Roehampton University has said it will be consulting on ceasing new enrolments to a "small number of courses" in its School of Arts which have experienced a significant fall in demand.


And earlier this month De Montfort University said it anticipates a net reduction of 58 roles across academic and professional services. A spokesman said academics in drama, dance and performing arts are not affected, although consultation is taking place over positions in the music, technology and innovation course.

Concerns have previously been raised that government has taken aim at "low value" degree programmes, with the Office for Students backing plans to cut the per-student grant for subjects that aren't considered strategic priorities and set minimum requirements for progression into employment or postgraduate study.

Existential threat

Alan Read, Professor of Theatre at King's College London, who has previously worked at Roehampton, told ArtsProfessional that post-1992 universities are vital to the overall "ecology" of theatre and performance studies.

"The existential threat to theatre studies and performance studies is that people come from these seeding grounds like De Montfort and Roehampton and move on [to other institutions], like I did from Roehampton to Chair of Theatre at King's," he said.

"Many other staff members moved on from Roehampton to elsewhere. People have gone to Queen Mary to effectively establish the leading REF centre in the country.   

"There's pressure on everybody post-Covid and post-austerity, but that pressure has been allieviated for those pre-1992 universities with the removal of the cap [allowing universities to accept more students]. 

"We are looking at a culture that is currently going through crisis because without the seeding ground where real research excellence and performance is taking place we are going to lose a critical part of the complexity of our culture and without them the whole culture will collapse."

Falling enrolments

Professor Ian Campbell, Interim Vice-Chancellor at the University of Wolverhampton, said Covid has significantly increased costs to the university while at the same time enrolments have been falling with associated loss of income. 

"This has been compounded by difficulties around overseas travel impacting international students during the pandemic," he said.  

"The reduction in student income, combined with increases in pay and non-pay costs including pension costs, alongside the impact of the pandemic, means the university is facing a very challenging financial landscape and a very significant deficit in the current financial year."

Campbell said that while the University of Wolverhampton has a long-standing commitment to the arts, the decline in demand nationally and regionally means that "some courses are unfortunately not feasible for September 2022 recruitment", adding that the university now needs to work on "what a sustainable arts offer looks like". 

"We continue to be committed to the arts, and opened a new £5m Screen School in Wolverhampton earlier this year, dedicated to regional upskilling and nurturing the talent of tomorrow in subjects such as animation, computer games design, film and television production, and multimedia journalism," he said.

Evolving student demand

A spokesperson from the University of Roehampton said that it is seeing student demand "evolving", while also facing financial challenges due to a range of factors, including caps on regulated tuition fees and the removal of the London Weighting element of the teaching grant. 

"As a result, we are proposing changes to rebalance our resources and achieve our vision of providing an excellent student experience and delivering successful graduate outcomes in a sustainable way," the spokesperson said.

“This will involve making some difficult and challenging decisions. We will be consulting on ceasing new enrolments to a small number of courses in the School of Arts which have experienced a significant fall in demand, and we are also launching new career-focussed courses across the school."