MMU closes Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies Course
Over a year ago, Manchester Metropolitan University made the decision to close down the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies course. The course was established in 1989 and had been successfully running for twenty years prior to the decision being made. PULP wanted to do a follow-up article on this decision, to inform readers that may otherwise be unaware of the cuts to courses that are being brushed under the carpet.
As I climbed the stairs in the Geoffrey Manton building to the third floor on which Mr Amir Barik’s office is, I recalled the last time we met and the bitterness he had felt towards the closure of the course which he had led.We shook hands and I sat down.
He explained how the conception of the course in 1989 was a great moment for him, and how at first, it was simply called Islamic Studies, as its remit was to educate non-Muslims, especially those within the public sector on the traditions and practices of the Islamic religion. The course awarded its students with a diploma certificate, and became so popular that the government funded many public sector workers to attend it.
However, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it became clear to Amir that the Muslim community lacked the answers to defend themselves, especially the migrant community. They soon faced discrimination and insults from the general public, and the Muslim community was “under attack”.
The course then developed specialised units inclusive for Muslim students and became known as Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. Amir took it upon himself to recruit students, to advertise the course in Islamic Centres and Mosques, and to reply to letters of interest regarding the course. He also organised a series of public lectures on the subjects that he taught his students, as he wanted wider access and awareness surrounding the issues.
In a debate earlier this year to save the course, the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Student Experience, Professor Kevin Bonnett said that the course was not closed due to the idea of it, or any hostility towards the concept. The course was closed as it was deemed as being “economically unsustainable”, and the decision was taken at faculty level.
In a recent interview, Kevin explained that due to the government’s Higher Education cuts that are being imposed upon MMU, around 700 places are due to be axed for undergraduate courses starting in the year 2012-13. So MMU have been forced to assess the current courses and to make cuts where appropriate. He explained that Islamic Studies was “unsustainable” due to the low demand and high costs, and this meant that the course was making a loss for the faculty. He emphasized that it was a “simple business decision” and nothing to do with an underlying ideology. He went on to say that the course had its benefits, but that it only benefitted a small number of people and did not have a significant impact upon community relations.
Lucinda Lavelle, a student on the course claimed she had not been consulted at all, and that the petition to save the course had “fallen on deaf ears”. She said the course has “enriched her life” and is currently living in Libya. Alex Fountain, VP for Education at MMUnionis angry that the University has scrapped the Islamic Studies course but recently introduced a new course: McDonald’s Management.
Amir says he had raised many ideas to the Dean and the Vice Chancellor to increase demand, such as converting the course from a diploma to a BA Honours and to create a Master’s programme. Amir also told me how the university attempted to bribe him to retire with a hefty financial package, which he refused although it was tempting.
Despite the bitterness, there is some hope that Amir clings to, as he has taken two modules that he used to teach on the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies course with him to the politics degree he now lectures in. These two modules are options chosen by second and third year politics students, and as Amir showed me the sign-up sheet for each unit, it seems they are highly popular.
Those who graduated from the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies course feel “disappointed” as they were refused the chance to convert their diplomas into a BA Honours degree; all they needed was 120 more credits. Amir is now holding talks within the Politics and Philosophy department to enable his former students to do just that. He is also attempting to establish an agreement whereby institutions such as the British Muslim Heritage Centre teach the degree but that MMU credit it.