Many Politics, International Relations and Human Rights students have had anxiety turn to relief as Vice Chancellor Steve West offered a concession in a meeting with Politics and International relations staff on Tuesday 5th of March. Students and staff had expressed concern for the future of Politics and International Relations after receiving an email stating that PAIRs (Politics and International Relations) subjects may be withdrawn from the UWE curriculum. Steve West has announced that the department will now have a ‘different future’, news welcomed by students with a guarded optimism.
In an email received on the 12th February, PAIRs students were notified that an ‘academic board’ would be considering discontinuing certain degree programs. The email was sent twelve hours after lecturing staff had found out about the proposal.
Vice Chancellor Steve West cited a 20% drop in applications and reduced funding as a rationale for cutting this subject, despite departmental claims that these numbers are sustainable. In the context of a governmental restructure of education, several of those affected claim that universities are being ‘assaulted’.
Whilst many students welcomed the u-turn as a vindication of the power of well organised and well-articulated grassroots campaigning, some are still concerned that a merger into a cross disciplinary school of social sciences will just mean that cuts happen more gradually. The consensus amongst campaigners was to congratulate the management on seeing the logic in keeping these courses but to be prepared to campaign again in the future to defend arts and humanities against what are regarded as ‘ideological cuts’.
The study of Politics and International Relations crosses other disciplines such as Economics, Business, Journalism, Sociology, P
sychology and Arts. Many students believed that the decision to cut PAIRs would signify a real attitude of indifference to humanities, as if the role of the university is not to support these courses but rather to become a vocational institution. Upon hearing the news that the department would be abolished under the original initiative, students, staff and trade unions quickly mobilised to discuss forward moving strategies.
The department, headed by Peter Clegg, made their case at the board meeting on Thursday 14th February, and identified four key areas of benefit from the continuation of these courses.
Course quality is high, with National Student Survey scores of between 96-100%. Politics and IR was categorized as a high performer in the 2012 undergraduate programme performance tables, and also received a very high level for quality of staff applications. Student engagement was also highlighted, as students of PAIRs are claimed to be fully integrated into the student body and decision making processes.
The PAIRs department stated clearly that it is directing degrees towards being vocational, whilst keeping the overall study of the subjects alive. Some believe that whilst modern economic developments are demanding further focus on certain skills, many people are demanding that they have the freedom to take on the academic projects they feel are the most beneficial to their own lives. In a profiting university with large student numbers, the feeling amongst staff and campaigners is that UWE can continue to provide for both. This was recognised by the university management who compromised on the issue, perhaps aware of the huge support and attention that the issue was commanding.
In a meeting between students, staff and trade unions on Monday 18th February, campaign methods were discussed and a series of strategies devised to try to show the value of Politics and International relations courses. Those present were also concerned deeply about the fate of other courses at the university that might be undermined by this sort of logic towards education.
Students of affected degrees have welcomed the decision not to cut PAIRS but are still worried about how arts and humanities courses will be restructured. Close attention will be paid to the transition although there is a real sense of achievement among those who participated in the campaign.