History UK statement on cuts to History and other disciplines at Goldsmiths

History UK is shocked and concerned at Goldsmiths, University of London’s destructive plans to impose mass redundancies amongst academic and professional staff in the departments of History and English & Creative Writing. These proposals not only threaten the future of these world-renowned departments and the unique identity of Goldsmiths as an institution of learning and innovative teaching. They also constitute an attack on underrepresented histories and the accessibility of History and English as disciplines, at a time when our world needs them more than ever.

Goldsmiths currently teaches the only MA in Queer History in the world and was the first institution to launch an MA programme in Black British History in 2020. These, and other pioneering programmes have sustained Goldsmiths’ identity as a world-leading centre for progressive, creative and critical education with a strong commitment to social justice. To impose swingeing cuts on such dynamic and socially vital departments is an act of cultural vandalism.

The diversity of Goldsmiths’ student body is unique and this cohort and the potentially larger cohorts to follow must have continued access to the teaching of the world-leading academics currently working in the Department of History. Given that many other universities are currently working to secure expertise in these areas following the Black Lives Matter movement and increased awareness of the impact of historical health inequalities during the pandemic, it is remarkably short-sighted for Goldsmiths to treat the irreplaceable experts in these areas as disposable. Such a move would lead to lasting reputational damage and is likely to limit any possibility of return to the secure pre-2020 financial position.

Goldsmiths’ Civic University Agreement states its commitment to working to improve the lives of people in the locality. Two out of five Lewisham residents are from a black or minority ethnic background, while Lewisham is one of the most deprived local authority areas in England. Two of the four priority areas in the agreement are ‘economic prosperity, jobs and growth’, and ‘culture, health and wellbeing’. The socially aware and engaged Department of History makes invaluable contributions to these priority areas: running an Integrated (Foundation Year) degree that supports socio-economically disadvantaged students to return to study; partnering with cultural institutions in London and beyond to provide these students with work placements; and working with schools and community research projects as well as national bodies to further equality of opportunity and aspiration for diverse, and often marginalised, groups. The cuts will make it impossible for the Department of History to continue this work, and it is difficult to see how the University can claim to uphold its commitment to the Civic University Agreement while undermining on-the-ground achievements in this way.

The proposed cuts also threaten scholars from groups that are severely underrepresented and/or marginalised in the UK historical profession. The Royal Historical Society Report on Race, Ethnicity, and Equality found that among UK-national staff, 96.1% of university historians are white, a figure higher than in most other subjects, while under-representation is particularly stark for Black historians. Key recommendations from the Royal Historical Society LGBT+ Report included deepening coverage of LGBT+ history throughout the curriculum, and integrating LGBT+ histories into core survey modules. The Department of History at Goldsmiths scores exceptionally well in both these areas. The proposed cuts will undermine the University’s stated commitment to equality and diversity as a member of the Equality Challenge Unit and a Stonewall Equality and Diversity Champion. They are also at odds with many of the University’s own core Equality Objectives 2017-21.

Contrary to the selective use of metrics by those proposing the cuts at Goldsmiths, which draw on out-of-date NSS results from 2020, the latest figures underscore the quality of teaching in the Department of History. For instance, satisfaction with teaching increased from 75% in 2020 to 90% in 2021, a strong increase given that the average across all subjects and institutions in 2021 was 80%. Overall satisfaction, learning opportunities, assessment and feedback, and academic support all also saw significant increases from 2020 to 2021. In 2021, History was up in all measures except one. Clearly the subject is on a rising trajectory, not failing, and to suggest otherwise is a flagrant misrepresentation of the metrics so cherished by university management.

Moves to cut History and other subjects at Goldsmiths have occasioned widespread condemnation from the academic community, including an open letter currently circulating to protest these redundancies with 3500 signatories and rising (see also a recent RHS blog post). History UK adds its voice to the rising chorus demanding that Goldsmiths rethink these proposed cuts and work to develop long-term strategies to secure these world-leading areas of research and teaching.

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.

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