University of East London to close School of Humanities and Social Sciences

UEL's Halls of Residence, which were built to resemble dockside mooring bollards

The Tories have always had an issue with academic  subjects that include critical thinking as a major component of their work. In the 1970’s and 1980’s it was Sociology.  In the 1990’s, it was Culture Studies.  More recently the Tories have attacked Media Studies.  These are seen as ‘soft subjects’ as opposed to the core or STEM subjects like Maths and Science on which Tory politicians, in particular, ascribe greater [ideological] value.  History has also come under assault from the Tories for being ‘left wing’ and ‘trendy’. In their book, The Plan – 12 Months to Renew Britain, Hannan and Carswell argue for the teaching of “proper history”. This is evidently shorthand for a narrower form of history teaching that concentrates on such things as the glory of Empire and the names of kings and queens.  Last year, the newly-appointed Education Secretary, Michael Gove, approached the revisionist and apologist historian, Niall Ferguson with a view to helping him write a new history syllabus. This was only the beginning.

In November the BBC reported that HSS at English universities will lose their teaching grants. Last week, I received a sudden email that alerted me to the fact that the University of East London was proposing to dismantle the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.  I am presently studying for my PhD in Cultural Studies with the SHSS. I am in my second year. The green paper proposing these changes was attached to the email. It does not make for happy reading.

A meeting was hastily convened in one of the teaching rooms on the ground floor of the East Building. As I walk into the room, I can hear the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and author of the Green Paper, Prof. John Joughin talk about “markets”, the Olympics and so on. This is not encouraging. His PowerPoint presentation outlining the changes is even less encouraging. It proposes that Culture Studies is placed within a newly-created School of Creative and Digital Industries. There is no mention of Humanities. As for Sociology and Psychosocial Studies, these are to be part of the School of Law and CASS School of Education respectively. You may ask what connection these subjects will have to their new schools. The answer is very little.

Joughin knows his management-speak but little else. For an academic, he seems entirely clueless about the important contribution made by our school. But, more worryingly, he conflates sociology with social work and social care and he conflates psycho-social studies with psychology. And this man calls himself an academic? He talks a lot about “duplication” but he does not elaborate on this. It seems to be his only rationale for making these changes. He is also fond of repeating the phrase “student experience” as if that’s supposed to convince us of his sincerity. But these are hollow words. His manner in dealing with the questions put to him is arrogant and confrontational. He’s clearly a manager and not an academic. He talks about this green paper being a “consultation”, but my experience of such exercises tells me that the conversation is only ever likely going to be one-way: his way.

Most of the points put to Joughin are met with a well-rehearsed “You’ll have to wait and see what’s going to happen”. There is an ominous ring to these words. His other stock reply is “Have you read the Green Paper”? When the answer is “Yes”. Nothing is offered but silence and more drivel about “courses remaining intact”.  He talks about the government’s wishes, at this point, another PhD student and I make the point that this is an ideologically-driven restructuring. Our eyes meet but he says nothing. Gotcha!

UEL’s management are content to chase markets, some of which will disappear after the Olympics. They seem to pin their hopes on this single event and on nothing else. There is no vision for the future. It is a ham-fisted attempt to dance to the government’s tune. The ‘restructuring’ has all the charm and finesse of an elephant on ice-skates.

Research Blogs has an interesting article here

My Masters supervisor knew that I was interested in pursuing cultural studies as an academic discipline and suggested UEL because it had an excellent reputation for cultural research. Indeed, it has largely filled the void left by the closure of Birmingham University’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (often referred to simply as The Birmingham School) in 2002. The Birmingham School had faced considerable opposition from the Thatcher and Major governments

There is a culture of anti-intellectualism at the heart of contemporary British politics that refuses to acknowledge academic work that asks questions about society; a tendency that they regard as dangerous and subversive. Instead, we find that these politicians only see universities in one way: as factories producing graduates for the service industries.

David Willetts, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, wants universities to offer the same courses in a sort of  McEducation style chain of institutions

In a speech at Oxford Brookes University, Willetts said his proposals would allow students to take prestigious courses, but save on the expense of living away from home by studying at a local university or college. He added that if institutions were freed from having to set their own degree programmes, they could focus on giving students excellent teaching.

This is not higher education as we know it. Willetts, whose soubriquet is “Two Brains” for his policy heavy background, high hairline and his close association with think tanks, sees education as a marketable commodity.

Willetts said: “It has generally been assumed that any home-grown institution offering higher education must award its own degrees. But I am interested in looking at whether some could benefit from linking themselves to an established exam brand with global recognition.”

Willetts has an estimated wealth of £1.9m. He knows the value of money but not the value of an education – priceless.


Filed under Cuts, Education, Government & politics, Higher Education, Ideologies, social engineering, Society & culture

6 responses to “University of East London to close School of Humanities and Social Sciences

  1. Pingback: University of East London to close School of Humanities and Social Sciences (via Guy Debord’s Cat) | plasmodial forms

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