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Government Cuts to Universities Threaten English Literature Degrees

By Charlotte Brook


A number of universities have made cuts to arts and humanities subjects as the government cracks down on what ministers regard as “low-skilled” subjects.


This involves cutting funding to courses where fewer than 60% of graduates end up in professional jobs within just six months of graduating.


Uncoincidentally, Sheffield Hallam University has now announced it will be suspending its English Literature degree from 2023. While the university has warned against conflating these changes to wider debates about government funding, it’s clear that the government decision is going to have a detrimental knock-on effect.



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A spokesperson for the university 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 they align to the latest demands from students and employers.”


However, Senior Lecturer Dr Mary Peace from the university criticised the decision on Twitter, stating, “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.”


The university plans to include English Literature as part of a broader English Studies degree. They have also said the changes will not lead to job losses.


The decision has caused an outcry from lecturers, writers and graduates who all share the same view of the importance of literature and the value of studying it at degree level.


Author Phillip Pullman told The Guardian, “The study of literature should not be a luxury for a wealthy minority of spoilt and privileged aesthetes, but a spring of precious truth and life that every one of us is entitled to.”


He adds, “Without literature, without music and art and dance and drama, people young and old alike will perish of mental and emotional and imaginative starvation. We really do have a government of barbarians.”


Author Sarah Perry also shares her outrage as she tells The Guardian, “I suspect this is only the latest symptom in the disease creeping across education at all levels, in which learning has been stripped of everything but the most utilitarian aims, designed to form minds into nothing but cogs in the capitalist machine.”


Could Sheffield Hallam be the first in a chain of the loss of English Literature degrees across universities, or will the passion and the deep cultural understanding the subject inspires be enough for it to be held on to?


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