From this autumn, hundreds more students will be enrolling on terrorism-related courses and modules at Warwick, Leeds and Derby universities, with Salford and St Andrews following suit in 2008. The courses range across law, sociology, English, politics and international relations.
Stuart Croft is professor of international security at Warwick University, which will be offering an MA in international security from September.
Professor Croft said: “Our Prime Minister is reminding us about international threats on a weekly basis, and with the wealth of significant literature in the terrorism field it would be strange not to offer new courses in this area.”
St Andrews University will be offering new distance-learning M Litt and diploma courses in terrorism studies from January 2008 to complement existing courses in this area.
Michael Boyle, lecturer in international relations at St Andrews, said: “Terrorism is a sexy subject at the moment, which is why it attracts lots of students, but there does need to be more clarity. There is a danger of using it across courses as a loose term, and so it comes to lose its real meaning.”
Salford University is starting an MA in terrorism, threat and response this September.
Eric Grove, director of the Centre for International Security and War Studies at Salford, said: “We have tried to move with the times without jumping on the bandwagon. We hope to examine what the risks really are.”
Christian Kaunert, convenor of the new MA, said: “We are expecting the MA to be popular. Student interest has changed — it used to be nuclear war, but after 9/11 students are very much impressed by what they saw live on TV. Those images shaped a generation of students whom we hope to recruit.
“There is a danger of being dragged into the hysteria surrounding terrorism, but by balancing the course with an emphasis on human rights we will show students that we don’t need to be scared — we can respond in the right ways.”
Frank Faulkner, a sociology lecturer at Derby University, is introducing a new second-year course on “The origins of terrorism: struggle and conflict in the 20th century”.
He said: “I designed this primarily due to a distinct lack of student knowledge of why terrorism is seeing resurgence, and what the principal identified reasons for it may be, including the Cold War and a retreat from colonialism.”
Some academics see problems looming. Ian Taylor, professor in international relations at the School of International Relations at St Andrews University, said: “There is a danger that because the subject is so difficult to investigate terrorism ‘experts’ may be basing their work on very little actual hard research.
“You can make a statement on TV about terrorism and no one can prove you wrong, unlike other subjects that involve sources that are more accessible and are thus more open to argument.”
Christopher Cramer, co-­ordinator of the MSc in violence, conflict and development at the School of Oriental and African Studies, said: “Terrorism is an emotive subject, and there is always the risk that it is addressed irresponsibly.
“Some universities are happy to accept the label of terrorism, but that isn’t one I am comfortable with. And yes, some universities are more opportunistic than others when it comes to using courses like this to attract more students.”
Others take a more pragmatic view. Tom Pine, senior lecturer in disaster management at Hertfordshire University, said: “A university has to respond to what sells. If terrorism is selling, then this is no different from previous popular interest in media studies or American literature.”