Hard-up Oxford college axes history

August 29, 2003

Harris Manchester, Oxford's college for mature students and an important part of its access drive, is to cut history amid serious financial difficulties.

The decision has angered students and the university's history faculty. One email circulating from a senior member of the modern history faculty calls the decision a "disaster and a disgrace".

It says: "HMC is denying mature students the chance to study history at Oxford; those who might have got to HMC will not go to another college, they will go to another university."

The college, one of the newest and poorest at Oxford, has seen a drastic fall in the money it receives through the college contribution scheme - the means by which richer colleges subsidise poorer ones. In 2001-02 the college was allocated £300,000. This year it has been allocated £30,000.

Judith Nisbet, academic administrator and tutor for admissions at the college, said: "The college seriously has to reduce overheads."

The college commissioned Derek Wood QC to look at its overall profile. One of the report's conclusions was that history would have to go.

"One of our modern history tutors resigned earlier this year. This, coupled with the fact that there are just 13 mature applications a year to study history, prompted us to cut the subject," Ms Nisbet said.

"We have about 60 applications a year to study PPE [philosophy, politics and economics] and about 50 to study law. We have decided to concentrate on these areas."

The college employed one lecturer part time and one full time. The full-time lecturer, Rowena Archer, has been made redundant. Sarah Williams, the part-time tutor, who resigned earlier this year, said: "I am very disappointed that the college has chosen to do this when history is such a strong subject."

All history students graduating this year from the college got 2:1s. The college said that provision would be made for current history students through other colleges.

But former students are campaigning to get history reinstated. Julie Godson, a disabled student who graduated in 2001, said: "The loss of history means that education of mature students is under threat at Oxford. I have serious disabilities and the glory of Harris Manchester is that it takes people like me."

Geoffrey Thomas, director of Oxford's department of continuing education, said: "We are sorry that they are discontinuing history as their strength was taking mature students."

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