Fears for the Humanities in British Universities.


Interesting article in the Guardian this weekend – always lots to think about when we think about the purpose of the humanities and/or the way it is funded:

Currently fixed in the crosshairs are the disciplines of the humanities – arts, languages and social sciences – which have suffered swingeing funding cuts and been ignored by a government bent on promoting the modish, revenue-generating Stem (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects. The liberal education which seeks to provide students with more than mere professional qualifications appears to be dying a slow and painful death, overseen by a whole cadre of what cultural anthropologist David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”: bureaucrats hired to manage the transformation of universities from centres of learning to profit centres. As one academic put it to me: “Every dean needs his vice-dean and sub-dean and each of them needs a management team, secretaries, admin staff; all of them only there to make it harder for us to teach, to research, to carry out the most basic functions of our jobs.” The humanities, whose products are necessarily less tangible and effable than their science and engineering peers (and less readily yoked to the needs of the corporate world) have been an easy target for this sprawling new management class.

Read full article.

How do you defend the humanities?

13Interesting debate tying into the bigger question of what are universities for – is it just about finding a job, or is there something more important going on there?

A leading critic of government higher education policy has launched a stinging attack on the University of Oxford, accusing it of being disingenuous in its arguments in favour of the humanities.

Stefan Collini, professor of English literature and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge, attacked an Oxford report released in July showing that from 1960 to 1989, its humanities graduates had shifted from teaching to careers in finance, law and the media.

Such alumni had therefore “proven highly responsive to national economic needs”, argues Humanities Graduates and the British Economy: The Hidden Impact.

Professor Collini, speaking more generally about how the academy should put forward non-economic arguments in support of universities, quoted from the study and called it a “saddening illustration of how not to do it”, although he did not mention Oxford by name.

Read full story.

Open Access Journals: Desirable and Inevitable?

1371280_do_you_dareInteresting piece from Times Higher Education:

We continue to witness a lot of back and forth between publishers and open-access advocates about the merits of Research Councils UK’s open-access policy – but where does it leave journal editors?

Some have echoed the publishers’ fears that open access will ruin their business models or undermine journal quality by scaring off top international authors. But not all editors share this view.

I co-edit two humanities journals: one, Shakespeare, for the large commercial publisher Taylor and Francis; the other, Theatre Notebook, for a small learned society (the Society for Theatre Research). I believe that open access is both desirable and inevitable since, as we move towards virtually cost-free digital dissemination, charging readers seems increasingly unjustifiable.

Read full article.

Humanities: Key



The importance of humanities – it’s not all about ‘science’:

Given the range and complexity of global challenges, the marginalisation of the humanities in educational systems seems perverse. After all, the humanities are devoted to the study of the human condition and the ways in which individual and collective subjectivities contribute to shaping and improving it. For centuries the humanities were at the heart of education, and the study of art, history, languages and literature played determining roles in shaping concepts of national identity. Yet in recent decades governments have shifted focus away from the humanities, slashing funding and, more importantly, diminishing their influence.

Read full article.



There’s space for interdisciplinarity – but is it happening?

Policymakers focusing on science’s utility have consigned the humanities to a supporting role, but scholars in each of the ‘two cultures’ understand that they share a love of discovery and capacity for wonder, says Martin Willis

I thought that we had, at last, left behind the “two cultures”: that phrase which, ever since C. P. Snow’s 1959 Rede Lecture, has served as shorthand for a divide between the sciences and the humanities. But everywhere I look in the broad bureaucracies of academic life I see its return, and not in any way that I find productive, even though this was certainly possible. The keynote of Snow’s lecture was, after all, to promote cooperation in an effort to improve society.

But isn’t this exactly what is happening? Aren’t the sciences and humanities being asked to collaborate as never before? Surely government initiatives, research councils’ interactions and the research excellence framework’s impact agenda all suggest a renewed dedication to cooperative and connected cross- disciplinary research? Don’t be fooled. There might have been efforts to make more robust the interactions between these fields, but the methods and philosophies that underpin such efforts are drawn only from the sciences.

Read full story.

Humanities Postgraduates? Preserve of the Rich?


I received a small bursary from the University of Winchester in order to undertake my history PhD … is such a possibility going to become the exclusive preserve of large institutions with huge reserves of money/gifting? I gained a huge amount from being a part of the department, rather than a cog in the wheel!

The University of Oxford has received a multi-million-pound gift for postgraduate humanities study aimed at the world’s most promising scholars amid concern that public funding cuts could make such courses the preserve of elite institutions.

The donation – which will ultimately amount to around £26 million – was made by Mica Ertegun, a renowned interior designer and the widow of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. Expected eventually to create at least 35 scholarships for humanities graduates at Oxford every year, the gift is the most generous for the study of the humanities in the institution’s 900-year history.

However, some observers fear that cuts to universities’ public funding will mean that only elite institutions with access to substantial donations and endowment income will be able to fully support postgraduate provision.

Postgraduates are not able to access the publicly subsidised student loans system. A recent report from the 1994 Group of smaller research-intensive universities warned of the dire consequences for postgraduate provision across the sector if future students, laden with debt from higher undergraduate fees, were not offered support for postgraduate fees.

Humanities Research 'Surfdom'


As someone who was involved in early digital humanities research (building a database of wartime propaganda posters in order to be able to identify themes/patterns in the posters), this story is really interesting:

We are now witnessing what Martin Wynne, Oxford University Computing Services liaison at the Oxford e-Research Centre, describes as “a move from research leave to research grants, with academics required to hire staff and manage teams”. This is obviously more congenial to some people than others, and critics argue that it is a trend driven far more by financial than scholarly goals.

But there is widespread agreement that the developing discipline and funding regime have overcome some of the teething problems. “Digital resources and infrastructure are developed to solve scholarly problems, not as ends in themselves,” says Hotson, “to serve our own projects and interests on the assumption that other scholars have very similar projects.” This avoids the danger of what amounts to academic “deskilling”. And while some earlier initiatives by researchers may have produced obscure and sometimes self-indulgent resources that helped them but were of no use to anybody else, Wynne argues that “reusability, sustainability and visibility” are the guiding principles today.

So how should we regard some of the more grandiose claims that are made for the digital humanities? Open-access projects, we are constantly told, democratise knowledge by making it available to anyone with a computer. “Far from being geared solely to academic questions,” says the website for Linguistic Geographies: The Gough Map of Great Britain, a chart that is thought to date back to the 1370s, “the project team was keen to ensure that our research findings reach the widest possible audiences, not least because maps are enduringly popular objects and always capture the imagination.”

New resources are also said to enable us to interrogate data in different ways and to ask fresh questions, including some that were previously not even imaginable. Since we can never tell what the scholars of the future are going to be interested in, almost anything might turn out to be useful. And if an academic discipline is in decline, digital tools can provide a way of reviving interest.

Such arguments are almost incontrovertible in the abstract, and are amply justified in particular cases, but often seem to be accompanied by very sketchy notions of what might constitute success or failure. Is it too crude to expect a database requiring x thousand pounds of research funding to generate so many thousand hits, five monographs, three spin-off radio programmes and 20 newspaper articles? And when does it become a dubious use of public money to create ever-more-sophisticated resources for disciplines that seem to be in terminal decline?

Read full story.

White Paper: rules may favour the humanities

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1161602The government’s new higher education policies could cut student places in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and create extra places in cheaper arts and humanities disciplines, vice-chancellors have warned.

A number of senior sector figures are concerned that the core-margin system, unveiled in the government’s higher education White Paper, will deduct places from high-cost STEM subjects and allocate them to cheaper institutions more likely to offer lower-cost arts and humanities places.

Critics also argue that the proportion of AAB students is higher in arts and humanities subjects, creating a further incentive to weight provision towards those disciplines under the new market for elite students.

Some vice-chancellors raised the issue with Prime Minister David Cameron during a meeting at 10 Downing Street last month.

Under the system, universities will lose an average of 8 per cent of their student places, creating a 20,000-strong margin to be auctioned off to institutions – including further education colleges – that offer average fees of less than £7,500.

Read full story.