Durham's Asian crisis

June 27, 2003

We write to express dismay about the decision of Durham University this week to shut its East Asia department.

Staff were formally told about the proposal only six days before it was due to be presented to the senate and at a time when senior members of staff were elsewhere in the UK on examining duties. The university says that the department is expensive, that UK demand for East Asia studies degrees is low, and that the quality of research output is unsatisfactory.

In fact, the financial authorities at Durham have admitted that their original figures on the department's contribution to central funds were inaccurate and that the true amount matches the social science average.

Student demand for East Asian subjects is buoyant, and the department's score in the last research assessment exercise, dismissed as a "mere" 4, is equal to that of 11 other departments.

Beyond these concerns, it is the short-sightedness of the measure that boggles the mind. Leaving alone the issue of whether a university should drop from its remit the study of the languages, cultures and societies of more than a fifth of humankind, the most important economic developments of the past 50 years have occurred in East Asia.

It was precisely because of the importance of the region to the UK's future that the British government decided that East Asia studies needed urgent strengthening. As a result, the Higher Education Funding Council for England made special funding available to established centres for MPhil courses. Durham was one beneficiary. That funding was made available on the explicit understanding that universities would assume responsibility for the continuation of these programmes. Durham will have failed in its commitment to Hefce.

There are, in short, very serious doubts about the wisdom of Durham's actions and the fairness with which it is seeking to implement them.

Hans van de Ven and Dennis Twitchett on behalf of 29 concerned academics:

Dr Robert Barnett

Columbia University
Lecturer in Modern Tibetan Studies, East Asia Institute,

Prof. Christopher Bayly

Cambridge University
Faculty of History

Dr Robert Bickers

Bristol University
Senior Lecturer and Vice-Chair (Research), Department of History

Dr Christopher Cullen

Cambridge University
Director, Needham Research Institute

Dr Susan Daruvala

Cambridge University
Lecturer in Chinese Studies

Dr Philip Denwood

University of London
Reader in Tibetan Studies, SOAS

Dr Richard Louis Edmonds

King's College London
Senior Lecturer in Geography

Dr David Faure

Oxford University
Lecturer in Chinese History

Dr Bernard Fuehrer

University of London
Head of Chinese Section, East Asia Department, SOAS

Prof. Richard Gombrich

Oxford University
Boden Prof. of Sanskrit

Dr Margaret Hillenbrand

Cambridge University
Lecturer in Chinese Literature

Mr. David Helliwell

Oxford University
Librarian Chinese Collection, Bodleian Library

Prof. Michel Hockx

University of London
Prof. of Chinese Literature, SOAS

Dr Eivind Kahrs

Cambridge University
Senior Lecturer in Indian Studies

Prof. Peter Kornicki

Cambridge University
Prof. of Japanese Bibliography

Dr A. Lo

University of London
Senior Lecturer in Chinese, SOAS

Dr Jianbo Lou

Cambridge University
Lecturer in Chinese Law

Dr Shane McCausland

University of London
Lecturer in Chinese Art & Undergraduate Tutor, Dept of Art and Archaeology, SOAS

Dr Tommy McLellan

University of Edinburgh
Lecturer in Chinese

Prof. David McMullen

Cambridge University
Prof. of Chinese

Dr Rana Mitter

Oxford University
Lecturer in Chinese History and Politics

Lady Patricia Mirrlees

Cambridge University
East Asia Institute

Dr Lianyi Song

University of London
Lecturer in Chinese, SOAS

Dr Roel Sterckx

Cambridge University
Lecturer in Chinese Studies

Dr John Swenson-Wright

Cambridge University
Lecturer in Japanese International Relations; Director, Korea Centre

Prof. (emeritus) Dennis Twitchett

Princeton University and Cambridge University

Dr Hans van de Ven

Cambridge University
Reader in Modern Chinese History

Prof. Paul Williams

University of Bristol
Prof. of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy

Dr Boping Yuan

Cambrdige University
Lecturer in Chinese Studies

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