This week I got the deeply depressing news that history (and many other arts and humanities subjects) are going to be axed at London Metropolitan University (see below for an insider’s view from Lucy Bland, which I post with her permission).

London Met, like my own university, the University of East London, has a huge proportion or ‘non-traditional’ students who come to higher education later in life or who need to study close to where they live as they have family and work commitments. The government cuts of 90 per cent of teaching budgets have predictably hit universities like ours very hard. The whole idea of a ‘university’ which can offer a broad choice of subjects is being dismantled in a deeply short-sighted attempt to ‘marketise’ higher education. A few months ago I raised the concern with my Conservative MP that history, along with many other arts and humanities subjects were going to disappear from universities if the teaching budget cuts went ahead, which was in turn going to have a big impact on the education of poorer students, the very students the politicians say they want to educate. He said that he was assured that poorer students will get some help with their fees (the £40,000 debt it will take to complete a degree (9K pa fees plus living costs)) which would benefit universities like mine. I pointed out that this was immaterial – because the massive funding gaps would mean that the departments are axed before they get there; there simply won’t be any places to study history at local universities in East London. And once a faculty disappears, it is extremely unlikely to return as it will take a massive investment to (re)establish one. The situation at London Met seems to confirm my worst fear – perfectly good, popular programmes like history are going to the wall, most likely permanently, not because students don’t want to take the courses – they do, and in record numbers – but because Vice Chancellors are having to make hurried and ill-thought out decisions based on the short-term premise that massively narrowing their HE offer is the only way to balance the books.

Date: Wed, 20 Apr 2011 23:31:55 +0100
Subject: Re: London Met – are you ok?
From: l.bland@londonmet.ac.uk

I am afraid it is very dire. UCU are getting a big campaign together and we
are soon starting a petition. Writing to our VC is also something that
people can do. I will paste in details below. We are very likely to be made
redundant – and I have recently been promoted to reader in history! It is
all mad and very grim.

The decision by the senior management of the university to close History,
Philosophy and other Humanities subjects has been taken without due process,
consultation or evidence of the financial savings to be made. As late as
last Tuesday we were still being told that History would be offered in the
portfolio of courses for 2012 and we had been asked to send off the new BA
History course details for the UCAS prospectus when we received news of the
papers going to the Academic Board.

History has been taught very successfully at London Metropolitan University
(formerly University of North London and Polytechnic of North London) for
over fifty years. While the redundancy notices are expected in early May,
there has been no clarification as yet about provision for our current
students.

If you’ve seen any of the media coverage of this, you’ll note that the VC is
saying that ‘despite excellent work by staff’ there is no demand for these
courses’. This is just false. Performing Arts recruits up to its target
numbers every years (60), History recruits about 45 students and Philosophy
30 yearly, as well as being the subjects for which student satisfaction is
among the highest in the university and with excellent reputations outside
the institution. UCAS applications for all these subjects are up 15% on last
year. Staff have never been given access to the methodology by which courses
are being deemed viable, and so have been unable to propose any
restructuring that might meet the ‘viability’ threshold. In part, it is becoming clearer,
subjects are being seen as unprofitable because of the university decision
to charge the lowest fees in the sector, which makes everything but courses
that can teach students in monster-size classes untenable. The VC is talking
about us having to compete with FE colleges and private providers, which suggests
that he’s given up on the idea that our students might like to have
something approaching a university experience. Since this is the university with the
highest proportion of BME and working class students in the sector, we might
be forgiven for thinking that there’s an agenda here.
I am sure that you will deplore this decision by the senior management of
the university to decimate the Humanities faculty, and history in particular..
Predictably the university has chosen to drop this bombshell just before our
short Easter break. If you wanted to express your solidarity with us, and
your opposition to these plans, the unions are asking for e-mails to the
Vice-Chancellor as something people can do relatively easily in this holiday
period. It’s Malcolm Gillies — m.gillies@londonmet.ac.uk. It would be
enormously helpful if you could write to Gillies and protest.

Below is the message sent out by our union, UCU:

Dear All,
HISTORY GONE
PHILOSOPHY GONE
PERFORMING ARTS GONE
70% OF UNDERGRADUATE COURSES GONE
VIABLE COURSES THAT RECRUIT HUNDREDS OF STUDENTS NOW GONE
HUNDREDS MORE STAFF SACKED (ON STATUTORY MINIMUM TERMS)
A TRADITION OF HUMANITIES TEACHING TO LONDON’S WORKING CLASS COMMUNITY
TORN UP
THE INSTITUTION THAT WE KNOW AS LONDON MET GONE
This is the future that the Academic Board voted for and the Board of
Governors have yet to vote for.
This is the future we were not consulted on. NO ONE IN THE AFFECTED AREAS
IN HALE WAS CONSULTED OVER THESE CUTS!
This is the blueprint for the future that the VC and the Executive are
putting forward to UCAS with the ‘approval’ of only three governors and no
consideration by a full Board of Governors.
This is the future that we must reject now
The attack we feared on London Met as the biggest university for ordinary
London people is happening now.
UCU will be balloting for industrial action asap. We are certain to get
support from our students and throughout London. We will get support
throughout the educational community and from all those who actually know
the value of higher education.
Details of an online petition will be sent out asap as will a copy of the
letter being prepared for the Board of Governors.

See also Times Higher news story

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