Evaristo fears Goldsmiths cuts imperil black literature master’s

Booker Prize-winning author is latest arts leader to speak out against job shedding at celebrated university

April 10, 2024
Bernardine Evaristo
Source: Creative Commons/Jennie Scott

Booker Prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo has urged the management of Goldsmiths, University of London, to think again amid claims that courses including a “ground-breaking” master’s in black British literature could be imperilled by cuts at the institution.

The programme – the first of its kind when it was launched in 2015 – is among those that could be undermined alongside another master’s in queer history that has been run since 2017, according to the University and College Union (UCU).

Goldsmiths is looking to shed 130 academic jobs, one of the most significant restructures in a current wave of cuts across British higher education, with 11 of its 19 departments affected.

The union claimed that the job cuts could leave the master’s degrees unviable.

Professor Evaristo, author of the critically acclaimed novel Girl, Woman, Other, who teaches creative writing at Brunel University Londonsaid it was “shocking” that the only master’s in black British literature was now under threat.

“Compare this with African American literature, which is widely taught at all levels throughout academia in the US, with many dedicated master’s programmes including at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Berkeley and Columbia,” she said.

“Conversely, British universities have historically only offered token gestures to include black British writers on the curriculum. Yet this field is expanding exponentially and deserving of focused critical attention, with many talented new writers emerging every day in a continuum that extends back to the slave memoirs of the 18th century.”

Professor Evaristo, also the president of the Royal Society of Literature, said the master’s “shouldn’t be seen as dispensable but as an essential course that is intellectually and culturally enriching for academia, the college and society”, and it needed “to be protected from cuts at all costs”.

Goldsmiths has blamed “a funding system that is widely acknowledged to be no longer fit for purpose” for the need to make cuts, with the institution facing rising costs while fees are frozen and recruitment stalls.

But Catherine Rottenberg, a member of the executive of Goldsmiths University and College Union (UCU), said “huge savings” had already been made via a voluntary severance programme and jobs freeze, and the scale of the plans was “neither justified nor acceptable”.

The branch has voted in favour of taking industrial action and last week announced that a marking and assessment boycott would begin on 19 April.

Other writers and alumni have joined the criticism of the plans to close courses. Angelique Golding, who completed the master’s in black British literature in 2019, said she had never previously “encountered many of the authors on the MA reading list – who had, unfortunately, been hidden in plain sight”.

“To lose such an important degree will be a backwards step that will impact future scholars and scholarship and work, once again, in the service of undermining the black voice and presence in the UK,” she said.

A Goldsmiths spokesperson said: “We are consulting on proposals with the union to deal with the unprecedented challenges that Goldsmiths and other universities are facing from a funding system that is no longer fit for purpose. The proposals are part of a wider plan aimed at ensuring that Goldsmiths continues to be a beacon for radical research and innovative teaching as well as an entry point for students who are the first in their family to go to university. 

“We’re proud to have widened scholastic learning with the introduction of the MAs in Black British literature and queer history and are committed to both protecting and enhancing arts and humanities subjects in the best way we can.” 


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