Academics hatch plan to save disbanded research centre

History centre shut during University of Brighton cuts could continue as autonomous organisation

December 20, 2023
Person holds the horse costume head in the annual pantomime horse race to illustrate Academics hatch plan to save disbanded research centre
Source: Alamy

Academics are hoping to keep the work of a renowned research centre going after it was disbanded by a university amid cutbacks.

Staff and alumni of the University of Brighton’s Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories have started exploring ways to set up an autonomous organisation that will continue the centre’s scholarship and further the collaborations it established in its 15 years of operation.

CMNH is one of seven research centres closed by Brighton since May. At the same time, the university has enacted a £17 million cost-saving plan, which saw more than 100 academic jobs cut.

Graham Dawson, a former professor of historical cultural studies at Brighton who was the founding director of the centre, said its “shocking” loss was indicative of the university “shrinking its commitments”.

Brighton shut its campus in neighbouring Hastings in 2019 and plans to close its Eastbourne site in 2024. The university-run Brighton Centre for Contemporary Art, a gallery that showcased the work of local and national artists, also closed in June.

Professor Dawson said similar situations were being replicated at institutions elsewhere and it was hoped their work could establish a model for university initiatives that are cut back. “Those of us at the core of this are very clear that universities are pulling out of lots of activity,” he said. “We are going to have to create, more widely, some kind of structure that will enable this work to go on.”

Founded in 2008, CMNH helped Brighton build a research culture from scratch, Professor Dawson said, functioning as a cross-university space that focused on thematic areas such as war and conflict, medical history and anti-racism.

He said it had also helped the university attract funding, expanding to accommodate 30 to 40 PhD students, and build connections with visiting scholars nationally and internationally.

The centre’s closure was mandated by senior leaders with little opportunity for consultation, said Professor Dawson, who retired in January but retains a link to the institution as a visiting research fellow.

A campaign group – Save CMNH – is calling for Brighton to reinstate the centre but has also begun exploring ways to ensure it can keep going in a new guise, and continue initiatives such as a long-running seminar series.

“Our centre is more than just a university organisational structure or unit,” said Professor Dawson. “It is a research community with value and values and an ethos and purpose which continues to be necessary.

“We aren’t going to have it destroyed by some management fiat without any justification.”

He said that new models for the centre were only just starting to be explored, with options including setting up as a professional association or community interest company.

It was hoped the centre could secure funding from research bodies, trade unions or via crowdfunding.

A University of Brighton spokesman said that it “regularly review[ed]” its research structures “to deliver on our strategic priorities and further develop areas that make us distinctive as an institution”.

“We will continue to support research into memory, narrative and histories in other ways,” he said.

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