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.

History UK statement on RHS LGBT+ Histories and Historians report

History UK welcomes the publication of the new RHS report on LGBT+ Histories and Historians, and fully endorses its recommendations.

This is the fourth report on equality and inequality in UK History, and it highlights instances of discrimination that are just as shocking. A significant number of LGBT+ historians do not feel safe or comfortable in academic spaces. Others have experienced clear and persistent harassment, including threats to safety. These are not only issues of mental health and wellbeing, but also have significant implications for individual career progression, and prevent the development of diverse and inclusive working environments that benefit history as a discipline.

Just as efforts to decolonise the academy cannot be limited to the diversification of reading lists on modules, so we need to embed diverse identities into curriculum and practice. Efforts towards equality and inclusion must include promoting LGBT+ historians and LGBT+ histories as integral to efforts. This effort requires commitment from History staff at all levels, and particularly from programme leads and line managers. The report emphasises that we need to work together to provide institutional support, and is particularly effective in showing the positive steps that non-LGBT+ historians should undertake to demonstrate allyship. History departments, and institutions as a whole, need to have conversations about this – but more than this, we need to take action.

This action needs to take place at the institutional and at the individual levels. Inclusive policies need to be embedded at institutional levels. Access to gender-inclusive spaces and provisions for gender recognition are essential, and dependent on senior leaders showing clear commitment to LGBT+ equality and inclusion. Some of the structural barriers may be out of the control of individual historians, but the report highlights ways that we can all work to make our communities more inclusive (for example, around use of correct pronouns). Ensuring that all individuals are not only able to recognise discriminatory behaviour, but that they are aware of institutional reporting systems, makes it much more likely that individuals will feel able to tackle such behaviour when it occurs, and use those reporting systems.

The recommendations are essential reading. The RHS has also compiled a series of useful online resources that historians can use in their own teaching, and to foster good practice within their institutions. This practical support in tackling discrimination and in bolstering pedagogical diversity and inclusivity will be one of the most helpful elements of the RHS’ work in this area.

It is clear that history is important for understanding the historically-rooted structures and belief systems that shape the ongoing exclusion of LGBT+ people from many spaces in society today. The rich bodies of LGBT+ and queer historical scholarship produced in previous decades should be fully integrated into teaching and research programmes at all levels. This is not only a matter of tackling discrimination, but of enriching historical knowledge. It will ensure that current and future LGBT+ students recognise themselves and their own experiences in the histories they are taught, and feel fully supported and encouraged to flourish within the university environment – with incalculable long-term benefits to the profession and the discipline.

History UK

28 September 2020

History UK statement of support for historians working in higher education

History UK stands in solidarity with all historians working in higher education and calls for recognition of the important work undertaken in History departments across the sector. More so now than ever. The implications of recent government decisions on this year’s A-Level examinations results are divisive and yet to be fully understood. The coming months are likely to be uncertain and stressful for many of us as we strive to support new students as they transition to university-level study, and help all students manage a new learning experience.

We support the Royal Historical Society’s message to students to explore the full range of History programmes, and their recognition that there are first-rate degree programmes and highly satisfied students across the sector. We recognise, however, that the implications of recent government decisions, particularly the lifting of the cap on university places in England, is a cause of considerable anxiety for many historians and History departments.

Historians across different types of institution have long raised concerns about unmanageable and unsustainable workloads. Many now fear that additional student numbers at some universities, combined with cuts to precariously employed staff and the additional demands of online and physically distanced teaching, will lead to significantly increased workloads. The burden of this additional labour may fall disproportionately on junior, female, and BAME colleagues. Those who have already lost their jobs may not necessarily be re-employed. There are historians in departments across the sector who are committed to their students, who will welcome new starters and go above and beyond to ensure they have the best experience possible. But this is potentially accompanied by a substantial cost for individual physical and mental health.

History UK is most concerned by fears among historians for their jobs and the sustainability of post-1992 universities in particular. These fears are compounded by broader attempts to dismiss the value of History in the national media and among certain think tanks. Yet, as we wrote earlier this year following the decision of the University of Sunderland to close programmes in History, the study of history has never been more important for the health of our civic culture and sense of national self-understanding. Historians across all kinds of institution not only inspire students, broaden horizons, and shape highly employable graduates, but also produce world-leading research, much of which is rooted in engagement with local communities.

It is essential that historians challenge these narratives and call for History—indeed all Humanities subjects—to be protected in any government bailout or support package. We may not all be affected equally, but the diversity and inclusivity of the discipline as a whole will suffer if we do not stand together.

History UK co-convenors (Yolana Pringle, Lucie Matthews-Jones, Jamie Wood)

19 August 2020

History UK statement on the closure of History at the University of Sunderland

It was with a feeling of dismay that History UK learnt of the decision of the University of Sunderland to close programmes in History.

We will not comment on the factors that may have led to Sunderland’s failure to recruit sufficient students for 2020 entry, when regional applications to study history have risen. Our sympathies are with the staff – staff who helped the subject climb seven places in the most recent Good University Guide league table, and who contributed to one of Sunderland’s best performances in the 2014 REF. Our sympathies are also with the department’s current students, whose studies will be harmed by this decision, and potential future students, from predominantly disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, who will be denied the opportunity to study history at their local institution.

The decision is all the more disappointing as it comes at a time when the study of history has never been more important for the health of our civic culture, and our sense of national self-understanding. Whether it is negotiating our new post-Brexit place in the world, evaluating our colonial legacies, or comprehending and contextualising contemporary social movements (from the #MeToo movement to populism, and from the climate emergency to a resurgence of anti-semitism), an historically-informed public debate is vital for our future. History departments and historians need to be part of that debate and both ought to be core to the activities of any university deserving the name.

This makes it imperative that History UK challenge and refute the central justification given by the University of Sunderland for their decision: that the discipline of History is not sufficiently ‘career-focused’. In making this argument, and deploying their Vice-Chancellor David Bell, to repeat it in the national media, the closure of Sunderland’s history department represents an attack on the entire discipline.

Arguments for the value of studying the humanities in general, and history in particular, have been made many times in the past, and the following represent a selection of key points worth emphasising:

  • The best potential employees in a modern dynamic economy are not, as all good employers know, those taught to perform a narrow and specific task, but confident, well-rounded, flexible, and, above all, thinking individuals.
  • History students gain a range of skills in information gathering, analysis, and communication that are relevant to almost all employment areas.
  • The best guarantor of employability, as a joint CBI-UUK report from 2009 argued, lies in developing precisely the ‘soft’, transferable, and person-centred skills which history degrees excel in providing.
  • As well as supplying a pipeline of skilled, creative, and dynamic graduates, history contributes directly to the economy through the heritage sector. A recent report from Historic England on behalf of the Historic Environment Forum showed that for England alone Heritage provides a total GVA (gross value added) of £31 billion and over 464,000 jobs.

As historians, we are keenly aware that we ‘have been here before’. Back in 2003, the then Education Secretary Charles Clarke was alleged to have argued that history lacked a ‘clear usefulness’, while in 2018 Robert Halfon, the chair of the Education Select Committee, made a similar point. Both are wrong, and the continued popularity of history as a degree level subject shows that A-level students have a better understanding of its value than many MPs.

Our discipline faces many challenges, including threats to marginalise history teaching in secondary schools and the need to do more to attract BAME students to study our subject. Our task need not be made more difficult by those who seek to minimise their own role in the closure of a department by traducing the reputation of our discipline.

Karin Dannehl (Wolverhampton)

Lucinda Matthews-Jones (Liverpool John Moores)

David Stack (Reading)

Elizabeth Tingle (De Montfort)

Jamie Wood (Lincoln)