Studying History Should not be Only for the Elite, Say Academics

Historians in the News
tags: higher education, academic labor, colleges and universities

Some of Britain’s biggest names in the education field of history are warning that the subject could be at risk of becoming a degree for the elite, after two modern universities announced plans to close down their history courses.

Aston University in Birmingham and London South Bank University informed staff last month that they would be cutting history degrees. Aston is consulting on plans to close its entire department of history, languages and translation, and London South Bank has said its degree courses in history and human geography will not recruit from this autumn.

Experts warn that with the government pushing universities to focus on perceived “high value” Stem and vocational courses leading to higher salaries, more history and other humanities courses could face closure. And with universities able to expand their numbers unrestricted, Russell Group institutions at the elite end of the sector are taking more students, while some modern universities are struggling to recruit.

A spokesperson for LSBU said that out of its 7,000 new students for the current academic year “fewer than 40 enrolled in the courses that are closing”. At Aston, the university is involved in a consultation with affected staff and the University and College Union.

Prof Kate Williams, a popular historical author and presenter on TV history programmes including the BBC’s Restoration Home and Time Watch: Young Victoria, said: “I’ve heard people say, ‘Well, history is protected at the top Russell Group universities’. But that is a really dangerous route to go down. Are we saying that if people don’t get 3As, they don’t deserve to do history?”

Williams, who is a professor of public engagement with history at the University of Reading, fears that working-class students who don’t want to leave home to go to university, or can’t afford to, may find themselves unable to study the subject. “It should be a degree that is open to all, and that means it must be available to those who want to study locally. Otherwise we might as well be going back to the Victorian period when this sort of university education was only for elite men.”

Williams said she was angry that the government is “pushing a vision that only Stem subjects [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] matter and degrees are only worthwhile if you immediately move to a job paying a very high salary”.

“History is so important,” she said. “It explores and tells us who we are. We should be doing more of it as a country, not less.”

Read entire article at The Guardian

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