Statement on the latest course closures and redundancies in the arts and humanities

History UK is saddened, but unfortunately not surprised, by the latest news of course closures and redundancies in the Arts and Humanities. Staff at Wolverhampton, Roehampton, De Montfort, Dundee, Bishop Grosseteste, and other institutions face losing their jobs, with those remaining facing a sharp worsening of their working conditions. They join Goldsmiths in being victims of the recent series of attacks on the Arts and the Humanities.

That these cuts are falling disproportionately on Arts and Humanities and on post-92s is a direct outcome of decades of government policy that has promoted the ‘marketisation’ of higher education, and an ideologically-driven narrative around the value of STEM. That these announcements come in the wake of the REF results appears, at best, cynical and, at worst, callous.

Limiting access to the high-quality expertise that Arts and Humanities offer in post-92s harms social mobility and blatantly ignores the vibrancy of our sector. Research and teaching at these institutions is often highly innovative and greatly contributes to the social, cultural and economic life of local communities. The graduates these institutions produce are also highly flexible and able to contribute positively to society, even if their true worth is rarely reflected in statistics that crudely measure  ‘graduate outcomes’ (in reality, incomes).

Along with the RHS and other scholarly associations, we have spoken out frequently in recent years about the value of History – and of the Arts and Humanities more generally – but we stress again: History graduates are just as employable as those in STEM, they represent confident, well-rounded, flexible, and thinking individuals, and the institutions that enable a diverse section of society to benefit from this education require our support.

Closure of History provision at Kingston University

History UK has learnt that on 21 April 2021 History staff at Kingston University were informed that the BA History and MA History degrees were now closed, and that the remaining three History staff would face compulsory redundancy.

Since the undergraduate BA History degree was temporarily ‘suspended’ in 2017, and the postgraduate degree temporarily ‘suspended’ in 2019, the History department has been targeted for closure through what the University and Colleges Union (UCU) at Kingston has called ‘salami slicing by stealth’—staff numbers have shrunk from 10 to 3, and History has been unable to recover. The ‘suspended’ History degrees have now been confirmed as ‘closed’, and the three remaining staff have been informed that ‘zero’ History staff will be retained.

The news from Kingston follows recently-announced cuts to History provision at London South Bank University and Aston University this year, and at Sunderland in 2020, as well as earlier closures elsewhere. At all of these institutions, managers appear to have announced cuts without engaging meaningfully with the affected staff or students. Cuts are justified using dubious claims about the utility and future prospects of humanities degrees and their graduates that are unsupported by evidence. It is worrying that Kingston has also announced other staff cuts and course closures in Media and Communication, Film Cultures, and Politics, International Relations, and Human Rights.

As with those affected by cuts at other institutions, History UK supports colleagues and students at Kingston and will continue to advocate for the continuation of History provision at all kinds of institutions all across the country.

Do get in touch with us if you would like to support our activities or are affected by these cuts. We are on Twitter (@history_uk) and our DMs are open.

History UK statement of solidarity with historians facing cuts at Aston University and London South Bank University

History UK is dismayed at yet further threats to History in higher education, as seen in news of course closures at Aston University and London South Bank University (LSBU). We stand in solidarity with colleagues at these institutions, alongside others whose jobs are at risk across the sector.

First, we would like to recognise the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty felt by so many historians working in higher education. There is never a good time to learn about cuts, but the timing of announcements at Aston and LSBU, coming on the eve of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, when access to mental health support was limited, raises questions about these universities’ duty of care for their staff and students.

Second, we are concerned by the apparent lack of consultation over plans to cut History provision in these institutions. Public statements outlining the reasons for such changes having not been forthcoming, making it difficult for colleagues, union representatives, and organisations such as History UK to respond. The implication that cuts to History at Aston is a result of it not being ‘identifiable with Aston’s image as a technical university with a focus on employability’ is particularly concerning, not least because such generalisations are not supported by evidence. History graduates are just as employable as those in STEM, yet also represent confident, well-rounded, flexible, and thinking individuals.

Third, we urge individuals and organisations to continue to make the case for the value of our subject—and related humanities disciplines—in response to such cuts. In addition to the need to shift false perceptions about the value of our degrees, and the prospects of our students, we need to continue to stress the importance of humanities subjects in universities that take widening participation seriously, and which have often been at the forefront of initiatives to create inclusive and dynamic curricula.

If you have ideas about how History UK and other subject organisations can respond to cuts such as these, please get in touch. We are on Twitter (@history_uk) and our DMs are open.

History UK statement on cuts to Arts and Humanities in Higher Education

History UK is deeply concerned about the growing number of arts and humanities disciplines, centres, and institutes facing closure and cuts. The latest involve the closure of the Institutes of Commonwealth Studies and Latin American Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and significant reductions in staff across the Schools of Arts and Humanities at the University of Roehampton. We have received reports of planned cuts elsewhere.

Earlier this year, we put out a statement in defence of history following the announcement of the closure of History programmes at the University of Sunderland. We will not reiterate those points here, though they remain relevant, because the growing threat to Arts and Humanities is bigger than any one discipline or institution.

Instead, we emphasise our support for colleagues at the School of Advanced Study, Roehampton, and elsewhere whose positions are under threat. To face redundancy during a global pandemic and economic recession is particularly traumatic. When such large-scale redundancies are being made to restructure and realign disciplines at short notice, it should raise serious questions about the long-term strategic decision-making of university senior management rather than individual units within institutions.

We also want to stress the need for unity between institutions and disciplines in the face of cuts. In many universities, closures and cuts are being targeted disproportionately at arts and humanities subjects, yet will have effects far beyond those disciplines.

Beyond the immediate human impact, the widespread undermining of the arts and humanities threatens the international standing of UK higher education, and comes at a time when their value to society is coming into ever sharper focus. Important and unfinished work, such as that of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies around decolonizing the university and on Black British History, is imperiled. Across the sector, it risks curtailing the opportunities students from all backgrounds have to study the arts and humanities and have their lives transformed.

Although currently localised, the likely impending scale of such cuts requires a coordinated response. We consider this to be a strategic matter that requires the input of not just one subject organisation within the arts and humanities, but from all of us.

History UK recognises that it has limited powers when it comes to decision-making within institutions. But we will lobby actively for the future of our disciplines, and work with other bodies, such as the Arts and Humanities Alliance, where we can. We are keen to explore new ways of offering support to staff and students affected by cuts and redundancies, and we welcome the ideas and support of all members of the history community.