News round-up: Philosophy and Literature programmes suffer from Covid cuts

This week, LSE launched their ‘SHAPE’ campaign which strives to promote the humanities and social sciences, students and staff joined forces to condemn the closure of the Philosophy programme at the University of the West of England and devastating cuts to the Literature department at the University of Portsmouth, and the government announced that EU students will lose their ‘home status’ and loan access from 2021.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: CDBU are seeking forward-thinking and unique responses to the current Covid-19 crisis and the crisis of marketisation more generally. This could be in the form of a financial analysis, a manifesto, or an opinion piece, but it must be specific to your institution. You can find previous contributions here, or email for more information.

University and Arts Council in drive to re-brand ‘soft’ academic subjects – The Guardian, 21/06/2020

A national fight to restore the balance between rival academic disciplines and give back lost weight to subjects such as history, foreign languages, geography and English literature, is to start this week with the unveiling of Shape, a “re-branding” drive to promote the humanities and social sciences. The plan, shared with the Observer, is to emulate the success of the educational term Stem – which stands for science, technology, engineering and maths – in emphasising the importance of the core subjects it represents.

Philosophy at UWE threatened – Daily Nous, 22/06/2020

The University of the West of England (UWE) at Bristol has announced plans to eliminate its degree programs in philosophy and effectively cease the instruction of philosophy at the school.  One faculty member in the university’s Department of Philosophy share the following statement last week:

‘The Philosophy team at UWE, Bristol were recently called to a meeting at which it was announced that the university is initiating a process to close the Philosophy BA and BA with Foundation Year. The intention is that there will be an intake this year (2020) onto level 1, but that no students will be admitted to the programme after that, and no foundation students will be admitted in 2020. We are shocked and saddened that the university is moving towards the closure of philosophy.’

You can help save the philosophy programme at UWE by signing this petition.

What is a university without philosophy?James Ladyman for CDBU

Philosophy is the subject that most clearly undermines the lazy dichotomy between culture and science, because philosophers study the concepts, ethics and foundations of every domain from art to zoology from within, and many philosophers are also highly expert in the most relevant other disciplines. The skills of communication, conceptual analysis and argument that philosophers develop are universally applicable, and are highly valued by employers. The AI revolution and the profound economic and social challenges we face makes philosophy more, not less, relevant.

Anger as University of Portsmouth restarts process to slash jobs during Covid-19 crisis – UCU, 12/06/2020

The University of Portsmouth is under fire over plans to axe more than half its English literature department. The university suspended the process in March saying it wanted to remove worry and anxiety for staff during the Covid-19 crisis. The university said it is pressing ahead with the plans because Covid-19 restrictions have eased, although it has not confirmed when staff will be axed. The university’s policy about staff working from home has not changed since March, nor have the circumstances of the affected staff. The University and College Union (UCU) said the only thing that seemed to have changed was the university’s concern for its staff.

You can help save the English Literature department at the University of Portsmouth by signing this petition.

EU students lose home status and loan access in England from 2021 – Times Higher Education, 23/06/2020

Students from the European Union will no longer be eligible for home fee status and student loans in England from the 2021-22 academic year, the government has confirmed. In a written statement, universities minister Michelle Donelan said that EU, European Economic Area and Swiss students who wanted to commence their studies in the UK next year will no longer be eligible for home fee status from August 2021 “following our decision to leave the EU”.

See also: HEPI response to the announcement on fees and loans for EU students in England from 2021

Gender pay gap begins for students straight after university – The Guardian, 18/06/2020

Figures collected by universities from graduates entering the workforce found that men had already begun earning on average 10% more than women 15 months after they left university, and that even among graduates with similar qualifications there remained a wide gap in pay.

The figures, published for the first time by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa), show that most 2018 graduates who gained their first degree and were in full-time paid UK employment were earning between £24,000 and £27,000 a year. But on average, men were better represented in the higher earning brackets. Only 16% of women with a first degree earned more than £30,000 within 15 months, compared with 28% of men. In the highest bracket, men had double the representation: 6% of men earned more than £39,000 a year after graduation, compared with 3% of women.

New report suggests PhD students work 50% more than undergraduates – HEPI, 25/06/2020

The author of the report, Bethan Cornell, who is currently studying for a PhD in Physics, said:

“Despite PhD students making a valuable contribution to UK research output, there are huge variations in the way they are recruited and funded and the quality of support they receive. This makes it hard regulate their experience and means PhD students’ voices can go unheard when things go wrong. Where good practice exists in the UK and abroad, the sector should take note and use it to form a more cohesive and uniform approach to PhD training. This would benefit not just the students, but the quality of UK research output.”

The universities crisis is the moment to end a decade of marketisation – New Statesman, 25/06/2020

A decade ago, sweeping reforms to higher education were carried out. Student fees were tripled in England to a maximum of £9,000-a-year (the highest of any public universities in the world), costing students – and the Liberal Democrats – dearly. Built into the changed fee structure was the principle that funding should follow individual students. Universities, now financially dependent on how many students they could attract, would compete in a new market. This competition meant institutions doing more and more for less. Reduced teaching grants, combined with a demographic dip in the number of 18-year-olds, meant this competition was particularly fierce, with few benefits for education as a whole. 

Mental health, financial problems take heavy toll on UK PhD students – Times Higher Education, 25/06/2020

Plans to boost research spending in the UK should be used as an opportunity to start reforming PhD education, it has been suggested, after a report detailed how the country’s doctoral researchers were more likely to seek help for mental health problems and to worry over finances than those in other European countries.

Australian university fees to double for some arts courses, but fall for Stem subjects – The Guardian, 18/06/2020

The Coalition will double university fees for some future arts students, and also raise them for commerce and law, to fund an expansion of 39,000 places and cheaper degrees for those who study in-demand courses such as teaching, nursing, maths, science and engineering. The education minister, Dan Tehan, will announce the policy to create more “job-ready graduates” at the National Press Club on Friday – emphatically rejecting comparisons to unsuccessful attempts to deregulate fees in the 2014 budget despite more than doubling the future cost of an arts degree.

Government should fund graduates to do internships with struggling businesses – The Telegraph, 25/06/2020

The Government should pay graduates to undertake internships at businesses struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic, leading universities say. Facing a recovering job market that has fewer opportunities and increased competition, young people will need government support, or youth unemployment could rise significantly. Universities UK, the representative organisation for the UK’s universities says that a one-year UK-wide scheme of recovery internships, working with businesses most in need, could help support up to 100,000 graduates to work with local companies.

Students should be partners not passengers in the Covid community recovery – WonkHE, 25/06/2020

Right now everyone is trying to reimagine university life post-pandemic in a way that is both safe and attractive to students. So the community lessons from the past few months cause me to wonder whether we should be positioning students as a central part of the civic response to the virus – imagining students not just as consumers of zoom lectures and socially distanced outdoor marquee events, but also as collaborators and partners in the cities’ and regions’ recovery from Covid-19.

Scottish government tells university staff to return to campuses before publishing higher education safety guidance – UCU, 19/06/2020

UCU said it was wrong for the Scottish government to be telling staff it was safe to return to work while it had not yet signed off and published the guidance for safe working on university campuses. The union has welcomed the Scottish government’s process for consulting with universities and trade unions on the draft guidance. However, It said it was illogical to give the green light to staff returning more widely before that guidance is published. Where sectoral guidance has been devised in other sectors, the guidance has been agreed prior to staff returning.

‘It’s what students look for’: the Dutch university that’s only hiring women – The Guardian, 15/06/2020

That women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) is a well-known problem. The statistics for gender balance in higher education are similarly bleak: the European Commission estimates that women make up 48% of graduates but hold only 24% of senior academic roles, falling to 15% in Stem. Dutch universities are particularly gender imbalanced, and last year Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE) sat at the bottom of the pile with women representing just 15% of professors.

The university is hoping a bold new approach to hiring practices may change that trajectory. It has made headlines by pledging only to hire women across all academic positions and at all levels until it reaches a target of 30% women professors in every department. 

All subjects have a role to play in rebuilding post-Covid. Let’s SHAPE the future together – WonkHE, 21/06/2020

Rebuilding will require creativity, hard work, and cross-party (not to mention cross-border) collaboration. It will also depend on the expertise and experience of a broad range of graduates – those in the natural sciences, medicine, engineering and maths together with those in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Whether they are dramatists, lawyers, art historians, psychologists or economists, or employed in the financial sector or the creative industries or universities, people trained and working in the arts, humanities and social sciences are essential contributors to the well-being of any healthy, wealthy and thriving nation. And as we seek to build back better, we need them more than ever.

Only a fifth of UK universities say they are ‘decolonising’ curriculum – The Guardian, 21/06/2020

Only a fifth of UK universities have committed to reforming their curriculum to confront the harmful legacy of colonialism, an investigation by the Guardian has found. The disclosure comes as universities are under pressure to modernise their syllabuses to address the attainment gap between white students and those from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. The campaign to give a fuller version of British history that reflects injustices and lauds the contributions of black British people has also won widespread support from the Black Lives Matter protesters. Academics and students said the Guardian’s findings reflected a reluctance in British higher education towards addressing the impact of colonialism on present day racism.

Covid will reinforce race inequality at Oxbridge, warn experts – The Guardian, 21/06/2020

Covid-19 threatens to exacerbate racial disparities at Oxford and Cambridge for years to come, according to the organisation charged by both universities with encouraging black students to apply to them. Naomi Kellman, founder of Target Oxbridge, which has helped 70 such students obtain offers for the coming academic year, warns that far from being a “great leveller” it is “clear that the virus is in fact reinforcing existing inequalities”. This academic year there were more than 200 black undergraduates studying at Cambridge – an all-time high. At Oxford, the proportion of black students admitted rose from 2.6% in 2018 to 3.1% last year.

Public Philosophy and the Civic Duty of Universities – Daily Nous, 22/06/2020

Like Plato’s Academy, the majority of modern universities should be civic institutions that engage with, learn from, and enhance the well-being of their local communities. Universities can do this by conducting research in collaboration with local business and manufacturing, supporting apprenticeship programs; co-sponsoring public debates and cultural events; acting as responsible employers and generators of wealth in the region; and serving as custodians of an attractive and sustainable environment. Many of these functions can and should also be extended to the national and international stage.

Boosting research without supporting universities is wrong-headed – Nature, 16/06/2020

Coronavirus lockdowns have precipitated a crisis in university funding and academic morale. When lockdowns were announced, universities all over the world closed their doors. They moved classes and some research activity online. But staff were given little or no time to prepare and few resources or training to help them. Fewer students are expected to enrol in the coming academic year, instead waiting until institutions open fully. That means that young people will lose a year of their education, and universities will lose out financially. Some governments have plans to boost post-lockdown research, but these will be undermined if universities decide to make job cuts and end up with staff shortages. Universities need support at this crucial time.