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Save Our Subjects

Heather Smith, Liverpool University politics student and Liverpool Confidential writer, is angered by news that her department faces closure

Published on March 11th 2009.


Save Our Subjects

SECOND-year politics students, 4pm, Friday afternoon. Just getting out of bed? Been in the pub since midday? No, we were settling down for our two-hour lecture on Euroscepticism in British politics.

Quite interesting to learn why, if you asked a passer by in the 'Pool, they might sneer at the thought of the EU, unaware of the fact that the money's been pouring in from Brussels over the past years. But that's another story.

“Is it true that they're trying to close the school of politics?” we asked our lecturer who looked as dumbfound as we felt. “So I've just heard, yes.”

Perhaps selfishly, we wondered how this might affect us. Would our degrees be devalued? Would there be fewer modules to choose from next year? Will there still be postgraduate options?

“Will you still have a job?” One girl asked our lecturer. “I hope so,” he replied, laughing uncomfortably.

Where was the consultation? Staff had learned of the proposed cuts only through a general email circulated to detail minutes of the Senate meeting. Surely they deserved a briefing at the very least. And what about prospective students? Hours earlier, politics students had been packaging up brochures for 2009/10 applicants. Are they going to want to join a department that is seen as failing?

The proposed closure stems from a 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, where the departments of Politics and Communication Studies, and Philosophy and Statistics failed to achieve world-leading 4* status in research activity.

When did world-class research overtake world-class teaching? The future of Civil Engineering, Cancer Studies, Dentistry, American Studies and Sociology are also under threat as a result of the assessment. We found out from a leaked document to the Times Higher Education supplement, no one was preparing to tell us.

The document quoted vice-chancellor Sir Howard Newby, stating “given the need to invest in excellence, it is not feasible to continue to support these areas in future”.

There have long been rumours suggesting that the university, like many others up and down the country, is verging upon bankruptcy, which has led to claims from critics that the RAE results are merely an excuse to cut costs.

In my own study of politics at the university, I have learned that dire financial situations require investment whilst the consequences of rash cutbacks can be disastrous. Surely there are ways to successfully cut down on costs without cutting out successful departments.

Liverpool Walton MP Peter Kilfoyle has tabled an early day motion, condemning the plans as “short-sighted”.

Perhaps, a cynic might say, the plans have something to do with the fact that the three schools in danger have a largely domestic intake, we do not cough up as much in course fees as say the international students who travel to study say Medicine, Engineering and Science (the world-leading departments) at Liverpool. But if the plans go ahead, all arts, humanities and social science students will be affected in some way due to the large cross over, module-sharing areas.

Would it not be wise, following the RAE results, to encourage further investment in the three schools, while continuing to support the areas that are already globally competitive?

Prof Jonathon Tonge, head of the Politics and Communication Studies dept, told me: "I agree with the vice-chancellor that we need to raise our research performance, what I don't agree with is the message that all that counts at Liverpool is research and not teaching.

“The two need not be mutually exclusive."

But why should Liverpool become the first Russell Group redbrick without a politics department? We do extremely well in the league tables and despite the popular discourse that young people couldn’t care less about politics, courses are oversubscribed.

Employment Minister Tony McNulty and Broadgreen MP Jane Kennedy are just two former students. John Snow, Robert Kilroy Silk too, and even Radio Merseyside’s Claire Hamilton graduated from Liverpool’s School of Politics and Communication Studies. Who knows what my classmates and I might get up to one day.

Second year philosophy student Daniel Cooper suggests, “At a time when employers are becoming increasingly wary of graduates only versed in very particular areas, it is important to note that philosophy is the transferable skill; from logic and reasoning to problem solving we can offer a range of skills that most graduates can’t hold a candle to. For a classical university to cut a subject that has been widely studied for well over two and a half millennia would be an unforgivable shame.”

Meanwhile, we second year politics students have set-up the campaign 'SOS: Save Our Subjects,' which, following its creation on Friday, has attracted well over 1,000 members on Facebook.

There will be a peaceful protest outside the Victoria building, where the Senate meets at 2pm today (Wednesday). Campaign organiser Paul Athans states, “we urge the University of Liverpool to change its policy proposals and to take the views and welfare of the student body into consideration.” Leaflets will be handed to the senate in an attempt to sway the final decision which will be made, following consultation, in June.

Communication Studies was an innovation when Liverpool merged the subject with the School of Politics. Today, in the age of spin, it is necessary more than ever to have a decent understanding of both areas.

The atmosphere among students both inside and outside of the Guild is electric. They’re ready to take on the world. The weekend was about organising petitions, getting TV and radio support, painting placards, ordering T-shirts, printing leaflets. And it’s not because, as you might expect, we like to cause mischief and mass disturbance. It’s because we like our courses, we like our lecturers, we are passionate about what we do and no small group of suits is about to tell us that what we have is not worth saving.

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

PC PlodMarch 10th 2009.

Oh stop it, I'm getting bored now.

baazMarch 10th 2009.

yawn.....maths and stuff is old hat. We need more relevent courses like film and tv, leisure studies, sport psychologie, and fashion and celebrity studies.they are the important and relevent subjects of interests to ordinary people.kids dont need all the old subjects any more.

Stan LaurelMarch 10th 2009.

Way to go, studes. It's about time we saw some passion unmetered by cynicism. Heather says: "In my own study of politics at the university, I have learned that dire financial situations require investment whilst the consequences of rash cutbacks can be disastrous". Well yes, but it never works like that in modern business practice, unfortunately, which is why Britain is in the mess it's in.

DMCMarch 10th 2009.

Ah yes, and are our engineers, inventers and industrialists going to manage this wealth? Just for kicks, almost the entire mathematical system of engineering was invented by an exponent of "pointless academics," as was the very concept of a global economy.

AnonymousMarch 10th 2009.

Good piece Heather!

rod s.March 10th 2009.

Oh dear, the cold winds of reality are blowing on the sheltered little world of pointless academic courses. How sad.We need to get rid of these impractical departments and invest in subjects to improve our economic status in the world.We dont need more politicians we need engineers, inventors, industrialists, exporters and people with a commitment to wealth creation.It is a good thing that these politically correct elites are being bulldozed out of existence to meet the exigencies of the modern world.A global economy doesnt need petty little hustings grubbers it needs innovation and productivity.

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