We have collaborated with the Political Studies Association (PSA) and the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES) to write a letter outlining our concerns about the future of the Department of Politics at Birkbeck. Birkbeck have recently announced plans to cut up to seven jobs from the Department.
See below for the text of the letter which was sent to the Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Chair of the Board of Governors on Monday 7 November.
Dear Professor David Latchman, Professor Matt Innes and Sir Andrew Cahn
As the respective Chairs of the Political Studies Association, the British International Studies Association and the University Association for Contemporary European Studies – the three main learned societies representing scholars in politics and international relations in the UK – we write to express our shared and very deep concern at your plan to cut up to seven jobs from the Department of Politics at Birkbeck.
We fully appreciate the financial challenges facing much of HE, and the considerable pressures on university leaders to take business decisions in the best interests of their institution. But you are surely aware of the broader context: that the number of students studying Politics at A-level is buoyant, and there is considerable engagement among many young people with political and global issues (not least thanks to issues such as Brexit, climate change and the war in Ukraine). Meanwhile, the British Academy have demonstrated (see this report) that the skills gained by politics and international relations graduates are very highly valued by many employers across all sectors of the economy.
You are also surely aware of the very high esteem in which Politics at Birkbeck is held well beyond your institution. The department has a fully deserved reputation for both teaching and research excellence. It was ranked Number 1 in London for teaching, learning opportunities, assessment and feedback, academic support and overall satisfaction in the latest National Student Survey. In REF 2021 100% of its research was ranked as world-leading or internationally excellent for impact and 88% of its research outputs scored in these categories. In the past, Birkbeck Politics staff such as Paul Hirst, Ben Pimlott, and Joni Lovenduski have changed the way we think about politics. Today’s faculty have made major contributions to fields such as public policy, political economy, European politics, British politics, international security and gender and politics. Birkbeck’s Centre for the Study of British Politics is a vibrant hub for public events and research.
Birkbeck should be investing in current and future students and staff and not scaling back while much of the sector expands. We call on Birkbeck’s Senior Management Team to rule out compulsory redundancies and instead invest in the Department of Politics’ considerable potential. Investing in current and new Politics and International Relations programmes would help to grow student numbers rather than downsizing a Department whose dynamic and exciting teaching we have seen first-hand.
We admire Birkbeck as a powerful symbol of lifelong learning and an institution that has made a unique contribution to widening participation in UK Higher Education. We understand that roughly half of Birkbeck’s undergraduate students identify as BAME and a majority come from relatively socially-deprived backgrounds. We are concerned that the proposed cuts will weigh most heavily on these students when the Department of Politics should be helping them to become future leaders.
Politics and International Relations are areas of growing interest and study across the UK, and they should remain at the heart of what Birkbeck does, in keeping with its 200-year-old mission as a progressive university dedicated to working people. We urge you to work creatively with your staff and students to find a way forward without the proposed compulsory redundancies.
Prof Roger Awan-Scully
Chair, Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom
Prof Ruth Blakeley
Chair, British International Studies Association
Prof Simon Usherwood
Chair, University Association for Contemporary European Studies