ANNOUNCEMENT – The Humanities and the Idea of the University, 3 November 2010

Workshop organised by the Philosophy Department of Middlesex University.
Wednesday 3 November 2010, 11am-6pm, Saloon, Trent Park campus

A crisis is facing Humanities education in the British university system. Forthcoming budget cuts in Higher Education look like they will target Humanities subjects in particular. The study of History, Literature and Philosophy are all in the immediate firing line. There is every chance that, if current proposals by the government are carried out, Humanities education will rapidly disappear from the UK university system as a whole, and become concentrated in elite institutions, open only to those who can afford the astronomical fees being proposed by these institutions.

The UK government appears to be about to take a huge risk. The British economy now rests largely on the ‘service sector’ (around 75% of GDP), but a large proportion of the income of the latter derives from London’s trade in financial exports. In the wake of the 2008 banking crisis, and the programme of austerity pursued by the current government, the UK economy hangs in a very delicate balance. The government appears to be hoping to inflict most of the pain resulting from cuts on working people and students, while letting the City continue as before, with a few adjustments in regulation. But if the government is going to withdraw funding from Humanities education in the UK, the repercussions for both culture and economy in the future could be immense.

A vast reduction in resources for the teaching and research of the Humanities, leading to the concentration of knowledge in the hands of a few, in conjunction with an education system re-tooled to provide the skills for a service sector founded on the irrational fluctuations of a financialised economy, could pave the way for increased instability at a number of levels: individual, social, economic, political and cultural.

An urgent re-think is required to review the bases, principles and values of Humanities education. What are the Humanities, what are they for, and what do they need to do to renew their relation to the historical present? Why aren’t more people reciting Shakespeare, why aren’t they talking about Bertrand Russell on the bus? Are there arts and methods to Humanities education that we are forgetting? How can Humanities education be related to ideas and principles of universality and equality? Is it possible to stipulate that Humanities education is an essential component of what a university does, or should be doing? Where are the new ideas in Humanities education?

In the past five years Middlesex University has abandoned teaching and research in two key Humanities subjects, History (closed in 2006) and Philosophy (admissions stopped in 2010). It appears to be on course to reduce all of its Humanities provision. This workshop will be a forum for lecturers and students to discuss the future of Humanities at Middlesex and in the UK in general. Speakers include: Matthew Charles, Andrew Goffey, Dave Hill, Johann Hoiby, Christian Kerslake, Andrew McGettigan, Alfie Meadows, Marie-Louise Rosbech and Marina Vishmidt. The workshop includes a panel discussion by Middlesex students of Martha Nussbaum’s recent book Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton, 2010).

The Middlesex workshop dovetails with two events taking place later the same week in London at Birkbeck College. On Thursday 4 November, Onora O’Neill will give a speech on ‘The Two Cultures Fifty Years On’. On 5 November, Birkbeck will be hosting the conference ‘Why Humanities?’ The first week of November thus provides a number of opportunities to reflect on the state of the Humanities in the UK today.

The workshop is co-organised by Andrew Goffey ( and Christian Kerslake ( Attendance is free, but please register in advance by writing to

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One Response to ANNOUNCEMENT – The Humanities and the Idea of the University, 3 November 2010

  1. Robin says:

    Agree with the sentiment entrirely but when did people ever have a casual chat about Bertrand Russel on the bus? lol

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