Funding Cuts Hit the Humanities the Hardest

By Harriet Ryder

What a lot of students don’t realize is that lecturers are assessed and valued by the university mostly through the research they do and the publications they make in leading journals in their field. Lecturers have to juggle their own research as well as organizing lectures and seminars, for which they often get little recognition from the university.

Because a university relies, both for finance and for professional recognition, on the quality and quantity of published research, it is a common tactic across higher education to push funding into the areas that produce the most prolific publishable research. In many universities, in light of recent spending reforms, the humanities’ departments have suffered excessively in comparison with other departments that are more financially productive.

At MMU, the towering new Business School that dwarfs the humanities’ library at the All Saints campus pays tribute to this sorry fact. Due for completion in 2012, the £75million building hopes to churn out the best business students in the North West. Already, multiple scholarships such as the Manchester Masters program are available through the MMU business department, working closely with companies in the local area.

As for the All Saints Library, named after philosopher Sir Kenneth Green, who was the vice chancellor of MMU from 1981-1997, the prospect is bleaker. Recently forced to reshuffle to accommodate an influx of material from the Aytoun Library, which will be closing in summer 2012, the All Saints library will be more packed than ever. Aytoun library used to house law material alongside business and economics material, but as law is officially a category under the Humanities, Law and Social Science Faculty, this is likely to need to be integrated, somehow, into the All Saints library. The foyer will be redesigned to accommodate more students, but there will be no increase in the number of computers available. Although laptop borrowing schemes are in trial in Crewe, there are no plans for a similar scheme at All Saints. The humanities department attracts 25% more students than the business department, yet it is clear that the business school is dominating the university in terms of advertising and development.

Pulp was told there will be “masses” of study space, including more IT space within the new business school, which will benefit all students, not just those within the business studies faculty. Moreover the executive has emphasized the importance for students to remember that the All Saints Library is not the only place in which they can study. This advise may have to be heeded as while expansion plans for the library are likely to take a number of years to come into fruition, but the influx of new students into the Business School will take place in September of 2012.

Sadly, in times of austerity and the tripling of university tuition fees, it is likely that more students will opt for degree courses with specific relevance in the world of work, as opposed to the arts, which are often studied out of passion alone. It is not unusual, for example, for a first year humanities class to be asked why they chose their course and for the unanimous response to be “because I enjoy it”. With youth unemployment at a record high, undergraduates are likely to select vocational degrees or those with better employability prospects. Arts courses will inevitably suffer in terms of attracting the same numbers of students.

Humanities students have never presumed they were the focal point of their institution. However, now they will have to battle against even greater odds in order to pursue their right to study the discipline they wish to. In a response to rising costs of providing course books for students, the university proposes to limit essential course reading on humanities courses to three books per module, which has huge impacts for the way in which literature based courses will be delivered. The library simply does not have the room or the resources to stock the 10 or so course books that would normally be studied on a literature module.

On a wider scale, MMU and universities alike are by no means the only institutions to be feeling the strain of funding cuts. The Greenroom theatre company (next to the Cornerhouse), the North West Playwrights project, the Royal Northern College of Music and the Castlefield Gallery are just some of the arts projects in Manchester that have had their funding cut to absolutely nothing earlier this year.

The sad fact is that at a time when the government spends the same amount on university education (£11bn) as it does on army equipment alone, the study of humanities – of what it is that makes us human – must fall by the wayside in favour of the pursuit of profit.

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