Week commencing 29/05/17
Oxford’s move to decolonise history degrees
From next year onwards, history students at Oxford University will have to pass an exam on ‘non-British, non-European history’ to complete their degrees. This news comes as an apparent victory for the student-led Rhodes Must Fall and ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ campaigns, which have gathered significant media attention over the last two years. The tone of this article, which details the university’s change of heart, is at once celebratory of the decision, condemnatory of the time it took to be reached, and cautious that campaigners will become complacent.
The article explains how the news was met in universities across the country by reactions ranging from relief to anger at its meagreness, being dubbed ‘tokenistic nonsense’ by one lecturer. Many, though pleased to hear the news, thought one exam was a rather blunt instrument with which to chip away at the systemic erasure of non-white histories. The article also notes that the introduction of this exam sustains a false binary between ‘British’ and ‘non-white’. Considering the impact of migration, slavery and empire on our collective past, the history of Britain without the history of non-white people is a ‘dangerous fiction’.
‘Truly decolonising the curriculum’, the author concludes, ‘would entail deconstructing the Eurocentric basis for our study of history. Tinkering at the edges will not solve this crisis of knowledge’. Moreover, liberating education does not end at broadening the content covered. It is also important, one lecturer warned, ‘for universities to be proactive in hiring non-white academics and introduce black writing and women’s writing to curricula’.
TEF results must be carefully communicated to improve students’ choices
This article lays out some of the main reservations that sector experts have about the TEF results, ahead of their release next week. The author, it should be noted, is the Head of Policy at the Russell Group and as such she is particularly concerned with how the metrics used might catch out universities which traditionally do well in league tables and rankings.
The author notes how the TEF results, which will rank all participating universities as Bronze, Silver or Gold, differ from league tables which go on absolute scores. ‘The TEF’ she says, ‘can more accurately be described as a tool to identify the institutions performing well against expectations for their particular student intake’. She is therefore mainly concerned that the implications of this difference, which could see post-92 universities outperform their predecessors, will not be fully understood by prospective students, and that recruitment will suffer as a result.
The article is couched in a language of applicant empowerment, insisting that the methodology used to reach the TEF results must be heavily publicised in order for prospective students to benefit from it. She particularly hopes that prospective international and postgraduate students recognise that data pertaining to their cohorts are barely incorporated. The Destination of Leavers from Higher Education data which the TEF uses is collected by HESA, which only deals with ‘home’ students. Moreover, half of international students studying in the UK are postgraduates, and the NSS, another significant source for the TEF, is only sent out to final year undergraduates.
Highlights from the week’s papers
Chateau Brexit? Average price of bottle of wine reaches record high of £5.56 reports that cash-strapped students to be hit by increasing cost of imported alcohol.
Times Higher Education general election poll results are in; a full breakdown of who UK academics are voting for according to this survey is now available.