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Union warns of geographical ‘cold spots’ in access to humanities degrees

An English literature lecturer has decried ‘cultural vandalism’ over the loss of humanities degrees at post-1992 institutions.

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Universities closing courses in the arts and humanities will mean poorer students are faced with ‘geographical cold spots’ when it comes to accessing these degrees, a union has warned (Chris Ison/PA)

Universities closing courses in the arts and humanities will mean poorer students are faced with ‘geographical cold spots’ when it comes to accessing these degrees, a union has warned (Chris Ison/PA)

Universities closing courses in the arts and humanities will mean poorer students are faced with ‘geographical cold spots’ when it comes to accessing these degrees, a union has warned (Chris Ison/PA)

Universities closing courses in the arts and humanities will mean poorer students are faced with “geographical cold spots” when it comes to accessing these degrees, a union has warned.

Sheffield Hallam University has suspended the teaching of English literature as a degree course, a move the University and College Union condemned as “shocking” and “depressing”, adding that it is more likely to affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It follows the University of Wolverhampton’s plan to cull 146 courses, including those in performing arts, fashion, interior design, fine art and social sciences.

In May, the University of Roehampton also announced cuts to its arts and humanities degrees.

UCU has warned that jobs may also be at risk in those departments at De Montfort University in Leicester and the University of Huddersfield.

The universities most vulnerable are those with a higher number of less well-off students and it is unconscionable to deny them the chance to study subjects like literature, art, drama and musicJo Grady, University and College Union

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said the decision to shut the English literature course at Sheffield Hallam is “as shocking as it is depressing”, adding that it “seems part of a wider agenda being forced on universities by the Government against the arts and humanities”.

The decision follows a planned crackdown on courses considered “low value” by the Government, whereby universities could face penalties if less than 75% of undergraduates finish their courses and under 60% are pursuing further study or in professional jobs 15 months after graduating.

Dr Grady said: “The decision is bad news for both the staff whose jobs will be threatened by these cuts and for current and future students, many of them local to the region, who will see their education choices limited and be denied the opportunity to access higher education.

“Decisions like this, and at other universities such as Huddersfield and Wolverhampton, will be hugely damaging for access, creating geographical cold spots as many courses are dropped.

“The universities most vulnerable are those with a higher number of less well-off students and it is unconscionable to deny them the chance to study subjects like literature, art, drama and music.”

Cultural vandalismDr Mary Peace, English literature lecturer

A Sheffield Hallam spokesman said: “As a large comprehensive university offering more than 600 undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, we keep our portfolio of courses under constant review to ensure that they align to the latest demands from students and employers.

“Whatever students choose to study at Sheffield Hallam, they will graduate with the confidence and skills to tackle real-world problems, having had the chance to complete work experience in every year of their chosen programme of study.”

Dr Mary Peace, a lecturer in English literature at Sheffield Hallam, described the cuts in arts and humanities degrees at post-1992 institutions as “cultural vandalism”.

Writing on social media, she said: “What kind of society will we have if there is no place for people from all social classes and backgrounds to have the chance to read and think (or to work in a bar for two years while they try to write a novel) before they have to make themselves compliant with the workplace?”

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