Founder of CityU creative writing programme questions decision to cancel it

Founder of City University MFA programme questions reasoning behind its closure, as students petition for move to be reconsidered

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 May, 2015, 2:38am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 May, 2015, 2:38am

A decision was made to close a tertiary creative-writing course that had been running for five years amid efforts to keep the curriculum profitable and alive, its founder said.

City University would no longer admit new students to its two-year Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programme in creative writing for the next academic year starting in September.

And the official reasons - low enrolment and a financial deficit - were far from convincing, according to course founder Xu Xi.

CityU told the South China Morning Post on Friday that fresh enrolment would end because "it recruited fewer than 18 students in each of the last two years" out of an annual admission quota of 30, and "has accumulated a large deficit over the years".

But Xu recalled: "In my proposal back in 2009 that CityU contracted me to prepare for an MFA programme, I recommended a target cohort of no more than 20, but the university insisted on 30 at a lower tuition rate."

The fact that the fees had gone up twice since the programme's launch in 2010 - from HK$3,180 to HK$4,030 per credit - was also a reason it did not make the annual quota of 30, she said.

With 45 credits needed to graduate, students must now pay HK$181,350 for tuition alone.

In the university senate's minutes of meeting dated March 24 and acquired by the Post, the English department proposed discontinuing the course as it had run up a total deficit of HK$1.633 million since 2010, including a major loss of HK$993,000 in 2012-13 incurred in part by "an unanticipated charge by the finance office for two years of venue use".

The document also says "a small profit of HK$440,000" is anticipated for 2014-15, but that the finance office is of the view "the programme is no longer viable financially".

Xu said she drew up a budget last year with the department's acting head Professor Rodney Jones to continue the course, backed by profitability, with a lower enrolment of 20 or below.

But things took a nosedive when Professor Hon Chan became the new acting head in December. Chan announced the closure at a March 2 meeting that Xu also attended.

The senate approved the closure proposal on March 24, but staff and students were unaware until April 27, causing an outcry among celebrated writers on the teaching roster - including Richard Blanco, the poet at the inauguration of US President Obama's second term - and the multinational body of students.

Yesterday, 97 alumni and students signed a petition asking senior management to reconsider the decision and hold a face-to-face dialogue.

"What is really so sad is that we are at the forefront of shaping the future of Asian literature," Danielle Van-De-Broucke, a student from England, said. "So to stop it now is really shortsighted."