Blog Post

Is life over as we know it?

I am aware that the majority of HASTAC scholars are over in the US, but over in the UK the state of Higher Education particularly with reference to arts and humanities is in turmoil.  The Governments Comprehensive Spending Review was announced yesterday.  We can not even begin to comprehend what this means for the UK’s current PhD students or indeed future students who want to study digital humanities, or in facts any type of arts and humanities.

This is cross posted from my personal blog:

I love my life.  I love my job. I love working at one of the top universities, in an amazing discipline.  I love what I do.  I have worked hard to get here. Some people think I am too young to be at this stage in my career, but I have worked my socks off to get where I am today.  I have always known what I wanted to do, there has always been a plan A.  People yesterday during the aftermath of the CSR were joking about what their plan B was going to be when Plan A gets slashed by the coalition government. But what if you don’t have a plan B? I have always wanted to do what I am doing now; I don’t have a plan B. At best I have two plan A’s. Both involve museums and learning and digital technology.

What was announced yesterday is frightening; people say it could have been much much worse. I’m sure it could have been.  Regardless what has been announced is going to change our society and culture significantly. Especially if you work, in fact work doesn’t cover it, if you love higher education and the cultural sector.

Government funding for higher education is to be cut by 40 per cent over four years, with strong indications that public funding for teaching in the arts, humanities and social sciences may come to an end. The Comprehensive Spending Review unveiled yesterday a reduction in the higher education budget from £7.1 billion to £4.2 billion – by 2014-15. Science and other STEM subjects are safe.  However, no mention is made of other subjects.  Following from the CSR live in the Willetts’ press briefing the minister was asked whether funding for arts would be cut. He didn’t answer. That makes me sick to my stomach.

Not only that; but culture is being slashed.  It’s all well and good that parliament cheer when the statement was made that National Museums will remain free. I am thankful for that. But there are only a handfull of national museums and hundreds of non national museums and galleries around the country. What about them?  Arts funding is being cut by almost 30% and what about the local authority museums? It is looking increasingly grim.

So much for my plan A’s.

I am not concerned about my short term future, I am lucky that I have a safe and secure cocoon of a 3yr PhD studentship to go into. What I am concerned about, is what will have happened when I emerge from that cocoon. What will the state of cultural heritage be? Will arts and humanities in higher education still exist? If it does will it just be an elitist endeavour for those privileged enough to attend?  I am worried about people who are ten years younger than me, who love history, museums and heritage.  What is to become of them? What is this government indicating to them? That it’s a pointless endeavour? That cultural heritage and arts and humanities don’t matter? What is to become of our museums? Of our heritage? Our cultural pursuits?  Is life over as we know it?

Also I am worried for the people who are just coming out of the cocoon of PhD’s what is to happen to them? If you haven’t read Matt Hayler’s harrowing account of his fears, you should. It puts a chill down your spine.




Great post by the way.  I'm sad to hear about the government cut in higher education spending in the UK.  Here in the states, we are facing something very similar.  In fact, my department had a special meeting for students yesterday to talk about the budget cuts and how those cuts will require students in our department to switch from a 1/1 teaching load to a 2/1.  Now, we've been lucky to have a 1/1 for some time (thanks to a number of faculty who have fought tirelessly) and honestly I don't have a problem with switching to a 2/1.  I love teaching.  I love what I do.  What was scary, however, was when the department head dropped a bomb that our tuition may be cut (or lost altogether) and funds would be relegated to a system that rewards "excellence" in teaching and scholarship.  Now this, as we were reassured, would not happen right away, but it is a future that we have to be considering.  I started thinking about this again when I read your post.  You said, "will it [the humanities and arts] be an elitist endeavour for those privileged enough to attend?"  If our tuition is cut that is exactly what will happen to our program, and to a lot of programs facing these types of budget cuts.  The only people who will remain will be those who can afford to remain.  I start to think then, as you have posted, what will happen to this profession that I love so much.  Part of what really worries me is exactly what you brought up and that is the question concerning our cultural heritage.  If students are denied funding, in my institution or any institution, what we lose is a vast cultural heritage that is working to change the face of the humanities and the arts through their presence and their scholarship.  

It's sad that these concerns have become a very real threat to our scholarship, but I just wanted to let you know that you're not alone Claire.  





With the recent cuts - more like gouges to the femoral artery, really - of French, Russian and Italian at UAlbany here in the states in addition to the slashing and hacking soon to be done in the UK, this is an issue on many minds. For those of us in the UC system, the situation is, of course, no different. It's no secret that many of the powers that be over here seem to view the humanities as a luxury that a university system unfortunately "has to have," a money-sucking blackhole that takes energy and resources away from important things like the university's "businesses." After all, someone has to pay for outrageous things like the salary of the English Department, right? The university seems to be upset it should be them. Of course, such a skewed perception is ridiculous on many levels, the first of which is that the humanities produce important knowledge and are an integral part of any education.

So, right, we've all been here before and for some time. You're certainly not alone, Claire. The question becomes, then, what to do about it? Because protests, teach-ins, petitions, outrage aren't working. At least not as well as they should be. How do we stop our universities from being run like businesses or trade schools? What do we demand of higher education? What do we demand of ourselves and of our colleagues in those other, better-funded disciplines? We all know the humanities are extremely important, but how do we communicate that to those who decide whether or not we are "valuable" enough to keep around?


Thanks for your comments, I don't want to say its good to know that I'm not alone, because that means that arts and humanities is suffering from funding cuts worldwide.  But Perhaps this highlights a major flaw in arts and humanities scholarship.  We are just not very good at telling people how important our research is.   In the UK when it first was rumoured that severe cuts were going to hit Higher Education the scientific community went into a frenzy to prove that they were important and deserved to keep their funding, highlighting how scientific research impacts highly on society.  What did the arts and humanities community do? Not a lot it seems. I had to hunt to find the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s report on UK impact. As we are entering into unchartered waters, with less funding and more competition we really need to up our game and start being proactive in communicating our research impact and importance.  We all need to have answers to why our research matters.

 The AHRC report highlights three critical questions we need to address:


  • Why is arts and humanities research important?
  • Why should the taxpayer pay for arts and humanities research?
  • Why fund arts and humanities research through the AHRC?


These are key questions that we need to be continually referring to, why is our research important, and why should it get funded.  We need to justify our existence, because the alternative is just too scary.