Just when you thought it’s bad

It would seem that in the people in UK academy — at least in arts and humanities — barely manage to gather their wits from one disaster bestowed upon them by regulators before they get hit by another that makes the previous one look like a godsend in comparison. It was at the beginning of this year that the infamous Framework for Excellence was introduced, suggesting the distribution of public funding to the higher education to be determined by demonstrable social and economic impact of whatever the eggheads of any particular university or department are spending their time on. Fast forward into October 2010 and we have a report titled “Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance” a.k.a. Browne Report that (apparently recognizing the futility of measuring the impact of something that in the opinion of authors plainly hasn’t got any) recommends, among other things, “exposing higher education to a competitive market” by cutting all public funding from arts and humanities.

There have been quite a few people expressing their outrage, but I have an observation that, surprisingly, hasn’t really been voiced. In a curious way, it is precisely the same people who insist upon axing humanities departments who are, at the same time, also complaining the loudest about the dangers of the the European culture being on the brink of extinction due to the onslaught of immigration. Now, if we go ahead and effectively make arts and humanities an expensive hobby that is accessible only to a small group of very privileged people, who can afford to take on a mortgage-sized loan to study something that results in an employment with rather modest pay, then what could possibly be the result of this in terms of the vibrancy of this culture and its accessibility to the wider population? How are the immigrant populations supposed to start appreciating our cherished values and cultural heritage if we don’t appreciate it enough to actually teach and study it ourselves? Incidentally, just as Martha Nussbaum recently pointed out, countries in Asia are turning their attention towards humanities, with China having bankrolled the establishment of more than 300 Confucius Institutes in 94 different countries and territories over the last six years.

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