Students influence history

July 18, 1997

History departments are responding more to student demand and less to the research interests of staff, a survey reveals.

History Today's annual survey of history at the universities, to be released in its August issue, finds that institutions are responding directly to student preferences in deciding which options to offer. Chris Wrigley of Nottingham University said: "The modules on offer have to attract student interest: if the takers are few then they go."

Manchester University, which once offered first-year students a single compulsory medieval course, now allows 12 options.

Other institutions argue that students must be exposed to areas they may not have studied before. Bernard Porter of Newcastle University warns against an entirely demand-led model: "The syllabus must have structure and some width. First-year students have to do some historiography for example and some medieval history."

History departments traditionally focussed teaching on the research interests of staff and some are still trying to do this. Anne Curry, head of Reading history department said: "The range here is largely determined by the research expertise of the staff; we believe that it is essential for students to 'hear it from the experts'."

A similar divergence of viewpoints emerged from questions about fees policy. Richard Davies of Manchester University said: "The fortunes of Oasis and Manchester United influence our recruitment more than Government fees policy." But Nottingham, Nottingham Trent and Trinity All Saints, Leeds argued that fees would be damaging, particularly for students from low-income homes.

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