Rant Losing English Literature

Question: Where are you in 1st-person singular present?

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Hannah F

Full Member

This is ridiculous! What is wrong with education for education's sake? The joy of learning as an end in itself.​

Sheffield Hallam University suspends English literature degree​

Sally Weale Education correspondent 59 mins ago
Concern is mounting about the fate of the humanities in higher education after Sheffield Hallam University announced that it would be suspending its degree in English literature.
Photograph: Andrew Fox/Alamy
© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Andrew Fox/Alamy
A university spokesperson confirmed that English literature is among a small number of courses which are being either suspended or closed, but said the changes would not involve job losses.
Related: English universities over-reliant on overseas students’ fees, report warns
A number of universities have made cuts to arts and humanities provision after a government crackdown on what ministers regard as “low value” courses.
Under new rules, universities could face penalties if fewer than 75% of undergraduates complete their courses and fewer than 60% are in professional jobs or studying for a further degree within 15 months of graduating.
The universities of Roehampton and Wolverhampton have similarly proposed cuts, and the University and College Union has said jobs are also at risk at De Montfort and Huddersfield.
A Sheffield Hallam spokesperson said: “As a large comprehensive university offering more than 600 undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, we keep our portfolio of courses under constant review to ensure that they align to the latest demands from students and employers.
“Whatever students choose to study at Sheffield Hallam, they will graduate with the confidence and skills to tackle real-world problems, having had the chance to complete work experience in every year of their chosen programme of study.”
Dr Mary Peace, a senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam who specialises in 18th-century literature, expressed dismay at the decision on social media.
“English lit degree at Sheffield Hallam is being ‘suspended’,” she tweeted. “University responding to government who will no longer fund degrees where 60% [of] students don’t end up in “highly skilled” jobs within six months.
Related: The threat facing humanities and the arts | Letters
“When was it ever more important in our history for young people to be able to manipulate language and to understand how they are manipulated by language and stories?”
“What kind of society will we have if there is no place for people from all social classes and backgrounds to have the chance to read and think (or to work in a bar for two years while they try to write a novel) before they have to make themselves compliant with the workplace?”
In another post, she added: “The demise of humanities in the post-92 [universities] is cultural vandalism.”
Michelle Donelan, the minister for higher and further education, said the government recognises that all subjects, including the arts and humanities, can lead to positive student outcomes.
But she added: “Courses that do not lead students on to work or further study fail both the students who pour their time and effort in, and the taxpayer who picks up a substantial portion of the cost.”


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What is wrong with education for education's sake?
Nothing, you'd think, right? But like so much else, education has been commodified.

It's only anecdotal, but just recently a university lecturer said to me that arts & humanities in the UK are once again becoming the preserve of the elite – the preserve of those fee-paying universities that are less concerned with government subsidies.

The situation at Sheffield Hallam makes me very cross and very sad, and there's a lot I'd like to say about it, but I'd probably fall foul of Litopia's 'no politics' rule, so I'll just mention that the people who lived through the fall of the Western Roman Empire didn't know they were living through the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
"...we keep our portfolio of courses under constant review..."

It was ever thus. Back in the days of dinosaurs, I pitched up at St Andrews only to find that the course I'd been offered – joint honours English and French – didn't exist.

[I'd been really happy to accept my place because that combination of subjects wasn't on offer in any of the other universities I'd applied to. Or those I'd not applied to either, I think.]

We waifs and strays didn't even discover the English&French farce we were starring in all through our first year. There may have been rumours, but I was too far down the food chain to have heard them, and I wasn't alone. Tell us? Come on.

A huge number of people (more than a couple of hundred) took the same English, French, History first year class choices, so it didn't become obvious. You could say, at that point it didn't matter. Undoubtedly, the two Profs, and a few more, did say that.

BUT the first day of second year, setting out to organise my time-table, the lecturer/tutor/whoever pointed out that I couldn't do that course – "because the classes clash". He was extremely matter-of-fact about it, I remember.

The French and English departments must have done that deliberately – I see that now – so no one could sign up to do the joint honours course for which they had been accepted, and for which (if, like me) they had turned down other university places. It can't have been that the 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. slots were such irresistible lures that they both had to have them, in two different departmental buildings.

The departments – and it was an open secret that they didn't get on – couldn't then be forced to work together. On a joint course which nonetheless appeared in the Prospectus, and for which offers were being made and accepted...

I don't know when the joint course stopped being offered. I'm not sure how many would have been affected, as we never actually sat down together. But maybe 50? Certainly 30. And looking back now it all seems barely credible. Pragmatic? No, cynicism raised to an art form.

I went back to a reunion (mistake. don't do it.) where I met someone from my hall of residence who was still going on about 'not being able to do the course she had been accepted for'. 30 years later. Same course as me. She said, quite seriously, that it had 'blighted her life'.
@StaceyDale to me it would be the same. Sarcastic or sincere, this sums up what's going on in the background. I find little truths in comments like this; signposts of a future which is probably already here.
I think of cuts like this as just examples of oiling the machine, priming people to follow another directive, one which focuses less on individual thought and reflection and more on being a cog in the machine. The arts/literature needs to be protected, not rewritten, cancelled or covered up. What a shame. Nothing's sacred anymore.

(With a topic heading like 'rant' I couldn't help having a little one of my own.)
I remember a piece in Texas Monthly long ago. It was written by a mother of 3 children. She saw nothing more important to them than being sure they had the skills to continue to learn through their lives. Her reason was exactly right I thought. Given the state of the world they would probably have a series of jobs that bored the pants off of them. They needed to have something to think about and keep their souls alive while doing mind-numbing work. I also think the whole point of the humanities boils down to that Capt Kirk speech to the aliens that he was always giving in various forms. The one that argues humans should be allowed to survive. When so many young people see humans as a terrible blight on the earth-they need to see our species is capable of creating beauty and virtue. The time and effort it takes to be able to see and understand art in all its forms is always worth it.
I agree. I also think that arts & humanities as a discipline (or rather, as a set of disciplines) is about so much more than beauty and virtue. It's about the study of human culture, and from it comes (not least) a great deal of the critical thinking that underpins the ethics of our political, legal and social systems. What did Socrates (supposedly) say? 'The unexamined life is not worth living.' It strikes me that many of the tools we use to examine ourselves – at both the personal and societal level – come from the arts & humanities.
Horowitz Piles In

Writer Anthony Horowitz – according to today's Times – says 'English literature is at risk of becoming a subject only for the privileged elite'.

He called threats to cut courses at Sheffield Hallam and staff redundancy threats at the University of Roehampton, where he is an honorary professor, “inhumane”. Horowitz, an English graduate of York, funds two scholarships at Roehampton, for students studying creative writing or English literature.

For myself, and from my own experience, I really hope that those students who have had the Eng. Lit. rug pulled from under their feet are allowed to finish courses they have begun. And that those who have been offered places on cancelled courses are offered satisfactory substitutes. We weren't.
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Question: Where are you in 1st-person singular present?

Reality Check A chip on an adult shoulder