Petition to save English literature lecturers hits 10,000 signatures

The University of Portsmouth said the cuts were in response to dwindling student applications

A petition to stop cuts to English literature teaching at the University of Portsmouth has secured 10,000 signatures.

The petition – Save University of Portsmouth English Literature Department­ ­­– calls on vice-chancellor Prof Graham Galbraith to reverse “devastating cuts” to staff numbers, which it describes as “effectively a step towards eradicating the literature department”.

Portsmouth employs the equivalent of 12 full-time equivalent posts in the English literature subject area and plans to reduce it to five from August 2020.

The cuts were announced on Monday 24 February and the university is currently pursuing a 30-day consultation with staff and union representatives.

The university announced the rationalisation after several attempts to reverse the decline in English students at Portsmouth failed.

A spokesperson for the university said: “There are no plans to close English Literature or reduce it so much that it is unable to succeed. Our proposals offer a way for us to continue to offer English Literature at the University of Portsmouth.”

The English Literature subject area has experienced declining demand from students for its programmes over a number of years. We have tried hard to counter that decline through curriculum development and through our marketing activities, but the decline continues
– University of Portsmouth

The petition says the cuts would impact teaching for current students and recruitment of future students.

“With only five members of staff, it is impossible to maintain [teaching] variety and to be taught by leaders in research. The variety of units available holds great appeal for prospective students, and so to reduce this will likely impact application numbers and result in a knock-on further reduction to staff. This move towards redundancy is effectively a step towards eradicating the literature department,” the petition reads.

Amy Thomson, a postgraduate student at Portsmouth, started the petition that has now received backing from authors Neil Gaiman and Derek Landy.

In a statement, Ms Thomson said: “The proposed cuts come at a time when the humanities are under attack across the nation from some politicians and media sources who question their value on narrow economic grounds.”

She said students like her would face “catastrophic” disruption if specialist, experienced staff are lost at the university.

In a tweet, the Portsmouth branch of the University College Union said: “The English Literature team at UoP are currently facing the threat of job cuts: if Faculty plans go ahead, eight out of 13 staff will be made redundant by May. This represents a 60% cut to staffing in this subject area. #shortsighted

“Announcing abruptly that 12 FTE will be cut to 5 FTE does not fit with the university’s redundancy policy that they will try everything else first (including, for instance, redeployment).”

Petition to save English lit lecturers hits 10,000 signatures spokesperson
The university said “matching resources with student demand leads to difficult decisions, which are never taken lightly”

A spokesperson for the university said: “We are committed to offering English Literature at the University of Portsmouth.

“The English Literature subject area has experienced declining demand from students for its programmes over a number of years. We have tried hard to counter that decline through curriculum development and through our marketing activities, but the decline continues.

“This decline is predicted to continue in the future with fewer students taking A Level English Literature. Consequently we have more university places than we can fill for a reducing number of students choosing to study English Literature at university.

“At the same time, other courses are experiencing sustained application numbers or even growth in demand, so it is important that we align our resources to ensure that staff and students in those areas are supported.

“Matching resources with student demand leads to difficult decisions, which are never taken lightly. It is vital that the University stays relevant to student choices and continues to offer a diverse portfolio of courses.

“There are 12 full time equivalent posts in the English Literature subject area, and we have proposed to reduce that number to 5 full-time equivalent posts.  This proposal is being discussed with staff and their union representatives over the course of a 30-day consultation period.”

The University of Portsmouth is not the first to respond to market pressures in the past two years.

In January, Sunderland University announced plans to close several departments and cease teaching modern foreign languages, history and politics in response to dwindling student applications. The university recruited just 14 history undergraduates at the start of the academic year, and just 15 on combined politics and history courses. The MFL department recruited no students at either undergraduate or postgraduate level for the 2019/2020 academic year.

Last year, Bangor University closed its chemistry department because of a decline in student recruitment.

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