Letters – 16 May 2019

May 16, 2019

How should HE respond to climate change?

Joanna Kidman makes a good point in her article “We need to talk about climate change” (Features, 9 May). Air travel, as well as travel by car, are major concerns. However, there is also a problem of alienation in the virtual world. We do need human contact and exchange, and that’s what academic conferences offer. It cannot be replicated by a virtual appearance. It’s not the paper or the panel, but all those conversations with old and new scholars – and indeed publishers – held over meals, coffee and drinks that are often so important. Academics are great participants in our global society and help to break down barriers to create an open society – conferences are one way we do this. Perhaps, though, we could create a fund to offset our carbon footprint.

J.strawson_254287
Via timeshighereducation.com


Way back in the early 2000s, the accelerating climate emergency impelled us to create two independent scholarly networks, Crisis Forum and Rescue!History, whose primary aims were to find ways and means by which “pure” research on the global, societal and biospheric crisis could be translated into applied action for and by the commonweal. Fundamental to these initiatives was the aspiration that universities would become exemplars of the necessary shift towards a genuine environmental sustainability.

Alas, our overall assessment of British universities is that the situation, if anything, is regressing. Excellent research there may be, but it is contradicted by the actual corporate behaviour of most colleges, confirming that they are as much part of the dysfunction as governments and big business.

It’s time universities came clean and finally stepped up to the plate. A simple first declaration of intent – something we did years ago with our own students yet without any university encouragement – is to respond positively to the Extinction Rebellion demand to tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency as part of a mandatory student induction. They then must get down to the long overdue business of sorting the yawning chasm between their researchers’ findings and their own increasingly unsustainable, often undemocratic and sometimes utterly shameful, planet-destroying practices. And if they can’t do it, then acting as XR rebels, their own student and academic constituencies surely now will.

Mark Levene, David Cromwell, Marianne McKiggan
All from Crisis Forum and Rescue!History


Dutch is too much

Reading “Will populism drown Dutch internationalism?” (Features, 9 May), it occurred to me that a fact often forgotten in this discussion is that universities do (and should) hire their staff according to talent and merit.

In some departments at Dutch universities the percentage of international faculty is higher than that of Dutch faculty, and with good reason: the talent pool in a country of the size of the Netherlands is rather limited. In order to make it attractive for international talent to join a system that has strictly regulated and limited financial rewards, you can’t ask international academics, who often only have temporary contracts, to teach in Dutch – a language spoken by a mere 25 million people worldwide. We can, of course, go back to offering our educational programmes in Dutch, but we would certainly lose the vast majority of international researchers and instructors who have contributed to making education in the Netherlands world-class. And wouldn’t that be a shame?

Gabi Helfert
Via timeshighereducation.com


Language matters

The picture painted by the article “Brought to book: the state of English studies” (Features, 2 May) is interesting because of its international perspective, but it raises two questions: why doesn’t English studies put the study of the English language at its heart, with literature as an optional element? Second, given the fall in undergraduate enrolments, why isn’t more done to encourage the best graduates to become schoolteachers, with pedagogy as an optional element?

It’s also striking that none of the academics mention that a similar decline in recruitment has been affecting their colleagues in foreign-language departments for several decades, and that most FL departments have also lost contact with the language from which they take their name. Could there possibly be a general lesson to be learned here? Maybe a department of English (or French) should study and teach English (or French)?

Dick Hudson
Via timeshighereducation.com


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THE.Letters@timeshighereducation.com

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