Opinion

Uncertainty and Heartbreak for the Future of GSA Courses

Financial strain and mismanagement have led to the withdrawal of several BA programmes at the Guildford School of Acting, leaving both current and prospective students heartbroken and uncertain about their future.

By Cathryn Fenton

In the wake of a £15m deficit, staff cuts and uncertainty for the University of Surrey, it was announced to students this week that some BA programmes are to be withdrawn. 

It was revealed to students on Wednesday 1st May that the University and Guildford School of Acting (GSA) have made the decision to withdraw the BA Theatre and Performance and BA Dance programmes. The announcement has come alongside the news of a number of staff redundancies in the department. Current students will be taught for the remainder of their course, but no new cohorts will come through the programmes. Although (at the time of print) students are still waiting on an official statement from GSA, they were told that the closures are due to a decline in applications. Students have commented that they are ‘heartbroken’ from this news.

BA Theatre and Performance was founded in 2009 and found its home in The School of Arts. In 2016, during the Operational Review, The School of Arts (under FASS) was disbanded; as a result, BA Theatre and Performance and BA Dance were merged into the GSA. Since 1946, GSA has been a conservatoire for the performing arts and the courses have traditionally placed focus on vocational and practical training, whereas BA Theatre and Performance and BA Dance have an academic focus, alongside practical enquiry. 

For students on the BA Theatre and Performance and BA Dance programmes, the merge into GSA has proven difficult. Many students have noticed a lack of resources since the merge and have identified a systemic problem within the way in which students are referred to by GSA management, particularly how their language consistently erases the course. This erasure appears on GSA social media too, there have been no posts about the course on Instagram and 0.2% of @The_GSA’s tweets have mentioned the Theatre and Performance programme; the last tweet that mentioned the programme was in February 2018. If then, the programmes were never marketed towards prospective students, it is little wonder that applications have plummeted.

Since the news was announced, there has been little clarity on the situation and students have received many mixed messages from GSA management about the terms of the closure. Additionally, GSA have provided no support to concerned students over the past week. For 1st and 2nd year students, the future of their degree is uncertain, with module changes imminent due to senior lecturers having to leave the department. The mismanagement of the announcement continues; students conducting their Professional Training Year are yet to be contacted by the University about the closure of their course. As well as this, prospective students have already applied to the programmes and received confirmed offers from the University, which were revoked by email on Thursday 2nd May and have left many applicants without any options for the coming academic year. 

It appears that the closure of these courses has been the result of rash decision-making that offers little consideration towards the consequences for students. Current and prospective students have received little reassurance from the school and continue to wait for clarity.

Cathryn Fenton is a final year Theatre and Performance student at the University of Surrey.

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