Saturday, February 06, 2010

Support grows in fight against cuts to British Universities

Scholars, students and the general public are increasing their efforts to prevent major cuts to the School of Arts and Humanities at King's College London. It is feared that the palaeography program at the university, along with its Chair, Professor David Ganz will be eliminated by September of this year.

King's College London is proposing the cuts after receiving news from the British Government that their financial support for Higher Education institutions across the country will be cut by £915 million over three years - a 12.5 per cent decline. According to several reports, over 200 jobs could be lost at the university.

Several petitions to save the program have gained thousands of signatures, while a Facebook group "Save Palaeography At King's London" has grown to over four thousand members. The group was founded by Dr. Daniel DiCenso of the College of the Holy Cross. In a letter to King's College, he said, "the administrators of the College have devised a system by which even the most senior ('tenured') academics will have to re-apply for their own positions under a massive reorganization scheme. Applicants (or re-applicants) will not only have to demonstrate the number of students taking up their particular subject (proving their economic worth), but also demonstrate the amount of research money they've brought in to the university.

"Though the Arts are not the only field on the chopping block at King's, we all know that when economics is the only guiding principle, the Arts are more at risk. How can any of us, after all, prove our economic worth?"

The Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literature also sent a letter to the university asking to reconsider the elimination of Professor Ganz position. They wrote, "Our concern is not simply about the loss of one post in a particular subject – every post lost is naturally to be regretted – but about the unique nature of the Professorship of Palaeography at King’s. As the only such chair in the United Kingdom, its significance stretches far beyond your own institution. It is testimony to Britain’s contribution to the essential skills on which the international medievalist community depends. Its removal can not but cause international damage to Britain’s academic reputation. You will also be all too aware that its loss will have a material effect on your institution, making King’s a less attractive prospect for serious-minded medievalist graduate students."

Harvard Medieval Art History Professor Jeffrey F. Hamburger wrote an e-mail to department administrators at King’s College London, stating his opposition to the forthcoming cuts. “Indeed, your assault on the Humanities in general seems part of a program to reduce King’s to a pauper or, perhaps, something closer to a vocational school,” he added.

Other Facebook groups have also been formed to oppose cuts to other parts of King's College London, including Stop Classical Archaeology and Art Faculty Cuts at King's College London and Stop Philosophy Faculty Cuts at King's College London.

A King's spokesman said it "remains to be seen" whether there would be compulsory redundancies among the job losses.

Meanwhile, staff at the University of Leeds, which is home to one of the country's most important medieval studies departments, have voted in favour of taking strike action if a dispute over job losses and funding cuts is not resolved.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) are campaigning against compulsory redundancies and planned savings of £35m. According to UCU 54 staff had already lost their jobs and up to 700 more were at risk.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "The bottom line is that serious job losses will impact massively on the institution's ability to function as a leading university in the region, let alone globally.

"The university should be working with us to oppose the government's savage cuts to higher education and must immediately put plans to axe 700 jobs on hold."

The UCU has already identified over 5,000 jobs at risk in higher education throughout the United Kingdom and believes the latest government cuts will lead to thousands more.

A UCU spokesperson added: “There appears to be a worrying misconception at some institutions that making savage cuts and axing huge swathes of staff won’t have much impact. That simply is not the case. You cannot get rid of over 200 people and not expect there to be massive implications.”

Universities have warned that up to 200,000 applicants will be turned away in the coming academic year as student places are culled due to lack of funding. The government had previously set, but missed, a target that 50 per cent of young people should be in higher education by 2010.

Click here to read our earlier article: Palaeography programme at King's College London faces elimination