Glennie returns her degree after music department closes

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The Independent Online

Evelyn Glennie, the celebrated percussionist, is to send her honorary degree back to Exeter University in protest at the closure of its music department. Glennie, who has championed children's right to a music education, said she was "absolutely horrified" by the decision.

She joins a growing list of influential people protesting against cuts to university courses. Last week Sir Harry Kroto, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, also sent his honorary degree back to Exeter in protest at its decision to close its chemistry department.

Glennie, a founding member of the Music Education Consortium, which has been lobbying the Government for music funding since 2002, said: "We have all worked very hard to ensure that the Government puts a budget forward for music education at primary school.

"However, if they are now allowing leading higher education establishments such as Exeter University to shut down its respected music department, then we are denying a large number of talented individuals their right to a higher education. This would not only restrict career courses in music but also create an imbalanced university campus and deny the local community the artistic benefits created by the university.

"I would like to see some serious action from the Government to help prioritise music as a just and valued subject on the curriculum at all levels, otherwise the future of arts education in the UK will become increasingly questionable."

Her protest comes at a time of growing crisis for ministers over university course closures.

Last week Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, sought to shore up key university courses by publishing a list of the subjects that he considered to be "of strategic national importance". He asked the Higher Education Funding Council for England to report on whether intervention was necessary to prevent universities abandoning subjects such as science, engineering and maths. His letter also noted the importance of creative courses - but failed to spell out music.

Exeter University has justified the move to close music as part of a need to refocus funding on large and more successful departments. Last month it announced a predicted £4.5m shortfall in its budget.

Steve Smith, the vice-chancellor, said that higher education had "changed massively", adding: "We cannot just carry on doing the same things as we have always done."

If the closure goes ahead, nine jobs will be lost - including those of major figures in the music industry such as the composer Joe Duddell and the French-music specialist Richard Langham Smith.

Meanwhile, the University of Kent has replaced chemistry with forensic science because of a lack of interest. Chemistry departments have recently closed at King's College, London, and Queen Mary, University of London. In the past decade 10 university chemistry courses have closed. Since 1997, the number of chemistry students has fallen from 7,490 to 5,735.

Earlier this week Cambridge University postponed a decision on closing its architecture department after a protest from academics and leading architects. A decision will be taken in the new year.