Today I channeled my rage into writing to both Professor Shitij Kapur, the President and Principal of King’s College London (my current employer) and Professor Evelyn Welsh, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Bristol (my future employer). I wrote them essentially the same letter. Please feel free to also send your VC a letter encouraging them to stand up for the humanities and arts.
Dear Prof Kapur,
I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to you as a current staff member at King’s College London to express my deep apprehensions regarding the recent government proposal to restrict places on university courses they consider to be ‘low value’. This initiative poses significant risks to the future of higher education, particularly in the humanities and arts, and I am seeking your support in addressing these concerns.
The government’s intention to limit student applications to courses based solely on the proportion of graduates securing ‘graduate jobs’ or pursuing postgraduate study oversimplifies the value and impact of a university education. The British Academy’s response to these proposals highlights the limitations of using graduate destinations and salaries as the sole measure of the value of higher education. Many graduates embark on fulfilling careers in the public sector, such as teaching and social work, which may offer low salaries but are essential to the well-being of our society.
Furthermore, it is crucial to recognise that numerous factors beyond the course influence student outcomes. Variables such as gender, disability, ethnicity, the institution attended, the state of the economy upon graduation, and the sector in which graduates work all play significant roles. I am particularly concerned about the potential impact on disciplines within the humanities, including history, art history, English literature, and modern languages. These disciplines contribute immensely to our society and offer valuable skills and perspectives. Restricting access to these fields based on arbitrary measures of value risks perpetuating a two-tier system wherein students from traditionally underrepresented and lower socio-economic backgrounds are denied the opportunity to pursue broad humanities and liberal arts degrees.
The humanities and liberal arts are essential pillars of education, fostering critical thinking, cultural understanding, and creativity. While my own discipline, Classics, may not be significantly affected due to its size and the standing of the institutions in which it is predominantly taught, restricting access to related disciplines will undermine the richness and diversity of higher education. Graduates in these fields often go into professions, including law, civil service, journalism, and have high success rates in professional graduate schemes. Moreover, the arts and humanities are intrinsic to the cultural fabric of our nation. The United Kingdom is renowned for its galleries, museums, visual arts, opera, ballet, and theatre, all thriving due to a strong foundation in arts and humanities education. Restricting and devaluing these areas will have profound repercussions, leading to a loss of cultural capital and global recognition.
As a passionate, precarious academic committed to delivering an excellent, broad humanities education, I implore you to consider these restrictions’ detrimental consequences on our university community. While ensuring high-quality education and positive outcomes for students is essential, the solution lies in expanding options and opportunities, not in erecting additional barriers. By embracing the full spectrum of disciplines, we uphold the principles of academic freedom, intellectual diversity, and equal access to education.
Furthermore, as a respected member of the Vice Chancellors’ community, I would like to urge you to consider the collective impact of your voices in defending the well-being of staff and students across UK universities, particularly those in the arts and humanities. By taking a unified stand, Vice Chancellors have the power to demonstrate the significance of these disciplines, promote their value within society, and ensure that students’ intellectual and creative pursuits are safeguarded for generations to come. By working together, we can foster an environment that cherishes the arts and humanities and truly supports the holistic development of our students. I kindly request your support in advocating against these restrictions and safeguarding the value and diversity of education at King’s College London. As members of the King’s community, we depend on your leadership and commitment to fostering an inclusive and enriching educational environment.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to any actions or initiatives you may undertake to address this critical issue.
Dr Ellie Mackin Roberts