University English

Joint Statement from University English, the English Association and the Institute for English Studies on threatened job losses at Birkbeck

2nd November 2022

Dear Professor David Latchman, Professor Matt Innes, Sir Andrew Cahn,

We write on behalf of the English Association, the Institute for English Studies and University English, the three major subject bodies in the UK representing the study of English language, literature and linguistics, to express our dismay at the news of the devastating cuts proposed for The Department of English, Theatre & Creative Writing at Birkbeck. Whilst we recognise that such a decision will not have been lightly made, to make 50% of English Literature staff in your hugely successful, world-leading department redundant is astonishing, particularly given the department’s much merited and celebrated success in the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (1st in London; 2nd in the UK). The proposed cuts will be devastating not just for individuals, both professional service and academic colleagues, but also for the long-term reputation of the College, and for the provision of arts and humanities education in London. We are asking you to pause and rethink, to work with your department, and your board of governors to defend not just English Literature but all arts and humanities subjects, before the damage becomes irreversible.

Birkbeck faces challenges common to other universities with declining numbers in English Literature. There are multiple factors behind this, and major steps are being taken by organisations such as ours to reverse the decline. But English Literature remains a core humanities discipline, and it is crucial to the future of the UK economy: after all, of the ten ‘top skills for 2025’ listed in the World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs Report’ 2020, eight derive from the arts, humanities and social sciences disciplines. The commitment of our subject to contemporary challenges, to outreach, to social justice, to climate change, to economic and cultural impact could and should be at the heart of your university vision. Arts and humanities subjects are integral to your future success as a university with a vision for it provision in the 21st century.

We urge you to rethink your decision and strategy. We need our university leaders to step up to honour the contributions made every year to the UK economy by humanities graduates, and to recognise the long-term consequences of the decline of these subject areas in social and economic terms. As a recent British Academy report put it, ‘arts and humanities students are the “ideal entrepreneurs” of the future, digitally literate, ready to thrive in a globally diverse world, resilient, confident at analysis and team working, independently minded’ (British Academy’s Right Skills)Given its mission, Birkbeck is ideally placed to lead on this.

It is extremely unfortunate that this is happening as you prepare to celebrate your 200th anniversary. Birkbeck’s world-leading centre for the study of literature and culture is much-loved by its many distinguished alumni and colleagues across the UK, as social media has shown only too clearly, and this is what we should be celebrating. Given the current demographic upswing, and the growing number of commuter students in London, Birkbeck has much to contribute in the future. We ask you to work with academic colleagues to address the challenges faced by arts and humanities disciplines, and to lead on promoting these disciplines that are so crucial to the health and wellbeing of our society,

Yours sincerely

Professor Jennifer Richards, Director of Newcastle University Humanities Research Institute, Chair of the English Association’s Higher Education Committee

Professor Clare Lees, Director of The Institute for English Studies, Vice Dean School of The Advanced Study, London

Professor Gail Marshall, Head of School, Literature and Languages, University of Reading, Chair of University English

University English OGM 2022

Booking will open shortly for our 2022 OGM, which will be held online. Please check back for details on how to book.

University English Book Prize 2021

The University English Book Prize for 2021 was awarded to Asha Rogers for State-Sponsored Literature: Britain and Cultural Diversity after 1945published by Oxford University Press.

REF Headlines for Sub-Panel 27: English Language and Literature

UE has co-signed the headline report on sub-panel 27, charting the growth and success of the discipline since the last REF in 2014. The full report can be read here.

English: Shared Futures 2022

English: Shared Futures returned with an in-person event on 8th-9th July 2022.

Further information is available here.

University English Book Prize 2020

We’re delighted to announce that the winner of the 2020 University English Book Prize is Tamsin Badcoe (University of Bristol), for her outstanding monograph Edmund Spenser and the Romance of Space. Details of the four shortlisted entries and their authors can be found on the Book Prize Page. 

2019 OGM

Saturday 7 December 2019

Senate House, London 10am-4pm (wine reception 4-5)

Our 2019 OGM heard about the latest developments affecting the subject, shared experiences between departments across the sector and was an opportunity to shape our future engagement.

This year’s OGM explored a range of critical issues for English in Higher Education given the contemporary political context. Our three panels focussed on how to work with European partners in a time of radical uncertainty over Britain’s future relations with the continent, English A-level: Behind the headlines after declining numbers sitting the exam triggered media attention this summer, and what ‘decolonizing the discipline’ might mean for English studies.

At our Business meeting we updated delegates on the activities of University English and our partner organisations: on recent meetings between the Common English Forum and the Department for Education; and about the Choose English campaign being run by the English Association; considered possible drivers and causes of the decline and heard from delegates about the impact on enrolments for their own department or programme. Delegates also heard the latest news on English: Shared Futures 2020, in Manchester and Salford. It has never been a more critical time for English to work together, across national borders, between secondary and higher education, and with other organisations in the sector representing English.

2019 University English Book Prize

Entries are invited for the University English Book Prize, awarded annually for the best scholarly book by an early-career academic working in an English department affiliated to University English. Further information on the entry criteria and submission dates can be found on our Book Prize page.

2019 AGM

Our 2019 AGM was hosted by the University of York, and took place on April 12-13th. With a plenary from WonkHE’s Debbie McVitty on English Studies in post-Brexit Britain, and panels on large grants, on how we develop and promote the study of languages and literatures after Brexit, on whether English is as well-understood outside the academy as we once thought that it was and how we might enhance its perception in the public eye, and a briefing and Q&A on REF2021 with Ann Heilmann, it was a lively and thought-provoking meeting.

Plan S
Following consultation with member departments, University English and the English Association have submitted a joint response to Plan S.

Employing Temporary Staff – Code of Practice
The Code of Practice on Employing Temporary Staff in English agreed at the April 2018 AGM is now available here.

2018 Ordinary General Meeting

This year’s OGM took place on Saturday December 8th, in the Woburn Suite, Senate House, University of London. A full programme is available here.

2018 Annual General Meeting

University of Lancaster, 13-14th April

2018’s AGM began our travels around the UK, with our spring meeting now taking place in a different university each year. Please click here to see the full programme. Our plenary speaker was Professor Greg Walker, chair of REF sub-panel 27, and the panels discussed challenges to English and the humanities, including A Level/university recruitment and the subject level TEF, the changing role of the professor, and citizenship, skills and employability.

News Overview

Open Letter to Alistair Jarvis

University English have joined with 28 other subject associations and learned societies across the Arts and Humanities as co-signatories of an open letter to Alastair Jarvis of UUK in light of the ongoing dispute over the future of the USS pension scheme. The letter raises concerns about the equality and diversity implications of proposed changes to the scheme, and highlights the risk that recruitment of top academics to the UK’s world-leading programmes in arts and humanities will also be negatively affected. The text of the letter can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/y9jrb8pk

University English Book Prize

We are delighted to announce the shortlist for this year’s book prize, which can be found here.

University English’s response to Brexit

The University English executive is disappointed by the outcome of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, and deplores the likely consequences of Brexit for the UK HE sector. We will do all we can to support our many non-UK European colleagues and postgraduates teaching, researching, and studying English in HE throughout the UK. We are actively working to facilitate the creation of a caucus of those colleagues in the next few months and plan to devote some of our resources to this purpose. In the meantime, we re-affirm our commitment to our sister associations in Europe, to the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE), and to the unity of English as a discipline across the UK, in all of its areas.

A letter written by colleagues from Bristol’s English department, outlining their disappointment at the decision (and its potential ramifications) can be found here. We hope that colleagues in other institutions might like to use this as a model for similar letters to their own representatives; if your department would like to post their letter here please contact Tasha Alden at nla@aber.ac.uk.

Please see our News page for more stories.

University English (formerly CCUE) is the main professional organisation for English lecturers in universities and colleges across the UK.

Our aim is to promote the study of English in all its aspects – literature, language, creative writing – and to further the development of both teaching and research.

University English is regularly consulted by funding councils, government agencies and other bodies when they wish to gauge the views of the English subject community.

Members meet twice a year, at the Annual General Meeting in Spring and the Ordinary General Meeting in London in early December. These events are an opportunity to meet colleagues from other institutions, find out about recent developments, and discuss matters of shared concern. To each we invite policy-makers, representatives from the funding bodies, and prominent academics, to address topical issues through a mixture of lectures, presentations, panels, and plenary discussion. The Executive Committee meets more frequently to plan activities and respond to the numerous invitations from bodies such as the REF and the AHRC to engage in consultative dialogue.

University English has close links with the Higher Education Academy and the English Association, and is affiliated to the European Society for the Study of English, whose membership is drawn from over 30 countries.

University English depends upon the good will and active involvement of its membership. The more departments it represents the more effective is its lobbying voice. If you would like to find out more about the advantages conferred by University English membership, please visit the About UE page.

ESSE Calls for Papers

The European Society for the Study of English, created in Rome in 1990, is a European federation of national higher educational associations for the study of English.

The aim of the Society is to advance the education by promoting the European study and understanding of English languages & literature in English and cultures of English-speaking peoples.

View all current ESSE Calls for papers

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