Not damned, united

November 14, 2013

In their pessimistic analysis of the prospects for English, “What happens in the tempest?” (31 October), Robert Eaglestone and Simon Kövesi make some misleading statements about the organisations that represent the subject and the level of cooperation between them.

The English Association is a learned society with a worldwide fellowship that includes writers, academics, independent scholars and schoolteachers. Through its publications, conferences and special interest groups, it serves the whole subject community and acts as a vital conduit of communication between English departments in schools and universities.

The Council for College and University English has a more specific remit, which is to promote the study of English in higher education. Its twice-yearly meetings are attended by representatives – often heads of department, although more junior staff and postgraduates are also encouraged to attend – from English departments across the UK. At a time of increasing competition between universities, these meetings allow staff from different institutions to address the wider interests of the subject across its three branches: literature, language and creative writing.

Contrary to the allegation of disunity, the English Association and the CCUE work closely together, and the issues identified in the article are precisely the ones over which most care has been taken to present a united front. For example, the organisations submitted a joint statement to the select committee inquiry on open-access publishing, cross-linked their responses to national consultations on GCSE and A-level reform, agreed a joint position on recommendations for open-access arrangements in future research excellence framework exercises, and are jointly involved in a special interest group on university admissions and transition. This unity makes possible authoritative position statements that we believe have influenced the outcome of consultations and have made an important contribution to public debate about the challenges facing our subject and the humanities more broadly.

David Duff
Chair, Council for College and University English

Martin Halliwell
Chair, the English Association’s Higher Education Committee


Eaglestone and Kövesi note that the Higher Education Academy’s “much-loved English Subject Centre” closed in 2011, along with “the rest” of the subject centres. This is not quite right: the Economics Network, hosted by the University of Bristol, is alive and well.

It is currently funded by around 50 departments across the UK, as well as the Royal Economic Society and the Scottish Economic Society. This academic year it has trained an unprecedented 0 lecturers and graduate training assistants, held an international conference at the University of Exeter and is running a collaborative research project across 17 universities on student expectations and behaviour in the new funding era.

Eaglestone and Kövesi are right that the subject centres addressed many problems in teaching across the sector. One at least continues to do so: I hope it might act as a model for other subjects to emulate.

Alvin Birdi
Coordinator of the Economics Network
University of Bristol

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