Design studies to close

The University of Otago has made the ''absolutely gutting'' decision to close its design programme, the Tertiary Education Union says.

''We're really disappointed,'' TEU organiser Shaun Scott said.

''It's a loss to the university, and potentially, a loss to the city as well.''

The university began consulting on a proposal to close the department of applied sciences in June, citing falling student numbers.

This week, after reviewing 27 submissions, the university announced the closure was going ahead.

The department includes clothing and textile sciences and bioengineering studies, which will be restructured following the closure, and design studies, which will be discontinued.

All planned changes would be finished by December, the university said.

The closure will leave seven full-time design staff out of work and about 50 design students unsure of how they will finish their degrees.

In a statement yesterday, sciences pro-vice chancellor Prof Keith Hunter reiterated that the university was ''committed to supporting existing students and will do its utmost to avoid disruption''.

Design student representative Zac Newton hoped students would ''hear some more concrete things'' about how that would happen now that a final decision had been announced.

Mr Newton is in his final year of undergraduate study, but he had hoped to do his postgraduate study at Otago.

Now, all of that was uncertain.

''I can't arrange anything for next year. I have to keep everything open until I know what I can do,'' he said.

''I don't know what my living situation is going to be if I don't know what I'm going to do for my master's.

''There are things outside of the university that affect us that they probably haven't even thought about.''

Otago University Students' Association president Paul Hunt said the association was concerned about resources and staffing for students.

''Students were consulted [on the closure], but there was a strong feeling that the decision to close had already been made before the consultation started,'' he said.

For students who have yet to finish their undergraduate degrees, it still remains uncertain which design courses will continue to be offered.

Prof Hunter said the staff would ''liaise with each student to discuss pathways to degree completion''.

Those discussions would inform the university about what support students would need, he said.

A working group, which would include student representatives, would also be established to consult on the papers that would be offered.

It remains unclear how the courses will be offered if the design studies staff are made redundant.

The Otago Daily Times understands some employees may be offered contract work to teach out the remainder of the courses necessary for current students to finish their degrees.

Mr Scott said he knew the university had committed to letting students finish their degrees, and understood ''that will require some level of staffing to see that through''.

Prof Hunter said yesterday ''nothing has been decided'' around staffing for the design papers after December.

Michael Findlay, a professional practice fellow at Otago's design school, declined to comment on the fate of his and his colleagues' jobs. But he said he was sure design would ''return to the university soon''.

''Staff need to start planning for it and students need to ask for a new design course at Otago,'' he said.

''As an interdisciplinary subject, design could be established in any of the current divisions and carry on the great interdisciplinary work achieved by the course that has just been so sadly closed down.''

carla.green@odt.co.nz

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