The Royal Historical Society is shocked and concerned by proposed redundancies and programme closures in History (and across all Arts and Humanities provision) at the University of Roehampton.
The terms of the Roehampton cuts are extensive.
The proposal is to make all 13.6FTE History posts redundant through voluntary or compulsory schemes and to require current staff to reapply for seven newly configured posts. In addition, the University seeks to close its History MA to new entrants from September 2022. If enacted, Roehampton’s cuts to History staffing will, in numerical terms, exceed those undertaken by any UK university in recent years.
If the Roehampton proposal is extensive, it is also inexplicable.
By any measure, Roehampton is a successful History department. It performs extremely well in the 2022 National Student Survey and Guardian League Table, exceeding many Russell Group institutions. On its website, the University lauds its ‘world-class historians’ who combine academic study with ‘real-world experience’ and skills-building for successful graduate careers. It’s these same members of staff whose posts are now targeted for redundancy.
As in teaching so in research, the Roehampton History department is flourishing. 83% of Outputs were judged as ‘world leading’ (4*) or ‘internationally excellent’ (3*) in the recent REF2021 exercise. This places Roehampton among the UK’s leading post-92 institutions for History. Roehampton’s historians are equally skilled at external grant capture: £1.67mn since 2014—a 550% increase in income generation compared with the previous REF cycle. Roehampton History has already demonstrated considerable growth in research culture since 2014. To squander opportunities for future growth will be a huge waste of talent, reputation and potential in favour of short-term solutions to current concerns.
The University’s stated reasons for cuts are declining student admissions, and its need to restructure degree programmes to meet Office for Students’ markers on graduate employability and professional status.
The Society finds this explanation unconvincing. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, between 2014 and 2020 recruitment increased at Roehampton by 113% in History, far exceeding the University’s 68% increase across all subjects in this period. Of the 104 institutions in the HESA survey, only two saw a greater increase in FTE enrolments to study History than Roehampton. Likewise, any subsequent small decline in admissions has identifiable and exceptional causes—most notably A-Level grade inflation in 2020 and 2021.
The University is right to stress the need for History degrees to prepare students for employment in a range of sectors. However, it’s mistaken to argue that Roehampton History must start again with a new degree and job profiles in order to do so.
As a closer look at Roehampton’s existing History programme makes clear, these priorities are already in place. Skills training and employability are central to History at Roehampton and a feature at all stages of the BA course, including a compulsory module in ‘Applied Humanities: Professional Practice and Placement’. As a result, for 2017-19, 66% of Roehampton History undergraduate leavers were in ‘graduate level’ careers or further study.
The Royal Historical Society has written to Roehampton’s senior managers to address their presentation of the History department and reasons for cuts. We sincerely hope our communication is read as constructive and the start of dialogue. We hope too that it encourages those charged with university management not to act in haste when considering change. Rather, we invite them to work with the Society, and others, to develop valuable, attractive and sustainable programmes in the humanities, for the longer term.
It is our great concern that once disbanded—whether to meet short-term financial and strategic goals, or acquiesce to populist swipes at the humanities—centres of expertise like Roehampton History will prove impossible to recreate. This would be a loss we can truly ill afford.
The President and Council of the Royal Historical Society
Those in UK History departments facing cuts, or concerned about their prospect, are welcome to contact the Royal Historical Society.
Contacts and resources are available in the Society’s new toolkit for ‘Supporting History Teaching and Research in UK Universities’.