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University of Reading to close 'unique' theatre course for deaf students

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The University of Reading has announced the closure of its only inclusive course for deaf and hard of hearing students.

Theatre, Arts, Education and Deaf Studies, commonly known as TAEDS, had been threatened with closure due to poor student satisfaction ratings and student numbers, but there were hopes that it could be saved.

However, after intensive discussions the University of Reading made the final decision to close TAEDS on Thursday. It will now be phased out, closing fully in 2018.

When the closure was proposed a week ago, both current and former students came together and set up a campaign to save the course, dubbed ‪#‎saveTAEDS. They also created a petition that gained 1,700 signatures and has been signed by deaf actress Sophie Stone, who recently appeared in a leading role on Doctor Who.

The students were intent on highlighting the impact that closing TAEDS, a course set to celebrate its 30-year anniversary in 2016, will have. There is nowhere else in the world where you can study theatre arts, education and deaf studies together, meaning TAEDS is not just an incredibly unique and important course, but also an internationally unique one.

The ‪#‎saveTAEDS campaign petitioned outside a University Senate meeting on Wednesday, where they were joined by the BBC’s See Hear programme, which was filming in support of the campaign.

 

The University of Reading highlighted two reasons for closing TAEDS: low student intake and poor student satisfaction.

TAEDS has 31 students across the whole department and nine in the first year.

However, TAEDS students argue there’s more to a course then numbers. Third-year Amber-May Ellis says: "Even though there aren’t many of us, it should be about quality not quantity. Why is the University cutting TAEDS and not looking at how they can improve things instead?"

In the National Student Survey, only 20% agreed with the statement: ‘Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of the course’. While 0% agreed with the statement: ‘The course is well organised and is running smoothly’.

These student satisfaction ratings are the lowest for any course at the university.

However, the University of Reading’s Education Officer, Niall Hamilton, says, ‘It’s a disgrace the university would rather shut down a programme because it's under performing in student satisfaction, rather than work with students to increase the satisfaction.’

Students rushed to highlight how important TAEDS is and how much they have benefitted from the course, but made it clear they wish that the way the course is delivered and run could be improved.

George Fellows says, ‘at no point did anyone want TAEDS to close, all we wanted was positive change.'

While the NSS results may be poor, the course has an impressive 95% employment rate after graduation.

  

The schools and theatre companies that the course works with are fully behind the ‪#‎saveTAEDS campaign and petition.

Handprint Theatre, which was set up by three TAEDS graduates and takes accessible educational drama workshops into schools, said that they are, ‘shocked and saddened with the news as Handprint would not exist without the course.’

The University of Reading says it is considering creating a new BA in Education that will incorporate aspects of deaf studies and also focus on other special educational needs - although this will remove students’ opportunity to learn about deaf studies in a non-educational route.  Currently, TAEDS prepares students for careers in professions other than education, such as sign language interpretation, audiology and speech pathology.

It is feared that in closing TAEDS the university will take away students' ability to gain the tools and knowledge that prepare them for entering deaf-related vocations such as these. There are already shortages in many deaf-related vocations, such as a current significant shortage of BSL interpreters.

There are two other institutions in the UK that offer deaf studies at university level, however, neither offers a programme of study like TAEDS. This is not the first time deaf studies in higher education has come under threat: the University of Bristol’s Centre for Deaf Studies, a leader in the discipline, closed down in 2013.

The wider community has also highlighted how far-reaching the decision to close TAEDS is: 

 

 

On the petition, James Rowe commented: "Niche university courses tend to attract students that eventually go on to change the world. They aren't sheep, choosing run of the mill, over subscribed, traditional courses. They're creative thinkers, dreamers, and boy does the world need those people!"




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