History is at risk in struggling ex-polys

July 11, 2003

History could be pushed out of new universities as traditional institutions recruit more students, academics warned this week.

The first in a series of THES subject reviews shows history departments in many old universities under pressure to take up to 50 per cent more students to bolster finances. New universities are being squeezed as students choose the traditional university route.

Eric Evans, co-convener of the History at the Universities Defence Group, said: "A large number of students want to read history at university. The problem is that they are pretty selective about where they want to go.

"Virtually all universities teach history, and post-92 universities are finding it harder to recruit."

The University of Manchester reflects this trend. Its history department admitted more than 150 students for its single honours degree in 2002, compared with about 100 five years ago.

Stuart Jones, chair of history at the university, warned that in the face of such expansion, it was inevitable that some newer departments would get pushed out.

Professor Jones said: "Up to a point, some degree of concentration isn't intrinsically bad. But some new universities do have a different ethos and have developed different history programmes, so it would be regrettable if history disappeared from them altogether."

The increase in student numbers at old universities, which has not been met by an equivalent increase in resources, is placing a strain on staff.

Professor Evans said: "Historians are used to establishing good personal relationships with their students, and they resent battery farming."

Morale is reportedly very low in history departments at many new universities, and there are even reports that some senior historians trying to move to more junior posts in traditional universities.

A source at an old university in the North said: "The fear is palpable.

They think their jobs are at risk. We had a modernist job and practically all the history department at Leeds Metropolitan University applied."

But LMU said that although the university no longer had any pure history courses, applications for English with history and politics with history were buoyant.

Many academics feel the situation can only get worse in the years to come.

Hannah Barker, a senior lecturer in history at the University of Manchester, said: "I can see a crisis being reached. It will hit new universities first but everyone will be hit eventually."

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