Regarding humanities

Let’s be clear from the outset – Sheffield Hallam University, one of the country’s largest, most diverse and successful universities, is committed to offering an exceptional range of courses across disciplines. The arts and humanities are a vital part of our contribution to our students, our region and the world. Currently we offer over 600 undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and we decide which ones to offer, based on our specialisms, our students, and our structures. Government does not.

Degree courses in English are important to our mission as a comprehensive university. We are especially proud of our track record in attracting students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who deserve the opportunity to benefit from the breadth and depth of skills that a humanities course provides. We are proud of our graduates’ contribution to Sheffield and its region’s thriving arts and cultural sectors. All of this matters because of our institutional mission to transform lives through an applied and comprehensive offer.

We are looking forward to welcoming new students this September in English Literature, English and Creative Writing programmes. These courses are open for recruitment, and our students will benefit from a highly engaging academic experience, where they will develop a set of skills that are rewarding and relevant, coupled with a supportive and vibrant learning environment. Placements and work experience are a core component of our offer, with our humanities students benefiting from exposure to on-the-job experience at leading cultural events such as DocFest and Future Now festival, as well as within iconic institutions such as Sheffield Theatres and Sheffield Museums. 

Our commitment is genuine. But as a large institution, we also have a responsibility to continuously review our portfolio offer – to ensure that it is as rich, relevant and responsive to students and employers demands in the local and national landscape as it can be. All institutions reflect on and review their offers. We have made some changes to our English literature provision from 2023. It will remain part of a broad-based English degree which features language, literature and creative writing. To be clear, there are no job losses as a result of this change. There are many large, successful universities, including, for example the University of Cambridge, which offer a single route into the breadth of an English degree. It reflects our commitment to continuously update and improve our provision to provide the best possible learning offer for our students.  

Our relatively modest portfolio revision has made the news. It has been conflated with a broader national concern about the government’s attitude to the arts and humanities. As a university leader – and one with a humanities degree – I am passionate about defending and protecting arts and humanities in our universities, our cultural institutions, and our society. Sheffield Hallam has long argued against a narrative that assesses the value of a degree based purely on economic metrics, such as future salaries. We educate individuals to thrive in a complex world.  We integrate academic and applied learning across our entire portfolio. 

The arts and humanities need defending and they need advocates. Too often, policy underplays their importance. But we distract from the debate on the importance of the arts if we don’t review and re-energise our humanities offerings. We need to counter the perennial questioning of the value of the arts in certain pockets of society by remaining firm in our commitment to fostering future leaders of our cultural offerings who can thrive. Sometimes that requires a change of approach, but not a change in commitment.  

*This article was first published in the Times Higher Education

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