The University of West of England Bristol (UWE) appears to have decided to cancel its successful BA Philosophy degree, without consultation and without any clear rationale. The programme, which is financially viable, popular with students, and scores very well in the NSS, is well known for promoting European philosophy. Its threatened closure is very mysterious.

The BPA wrote directly to the university on Friday 19th June inviting them to meet and discuss the programme – at the same time, many people in philosophy departments from around the UK wrote to UWE’s vice chancellor protesting the decision and asking for explanation. Today the BPA are sending this open letter, signed by the heads of philosophy departments at 50 universities and representatives of many philosophical learned societies, repeating our invitation for a meeting. You can read the letter here.

Prof. James Ladyman, a leading philosopher at the University of Bristol, has written a strident piece for the Council for Defence of British Universities’ website here in which he discusses UWE Bristol’s decision:

I work in the philosophy department at the University of Bristol, and according to the logic of the market we are rivals with our fellow philosophers at UWE. But academics think of our counterparts in other institutions as colleagues rather than adversaries…

Closing a financially viable, high-performing department teaching a subject that is popular with both employers and students, and which connects to almost every other subject, makes no sense.

Philosophy is the subject that most clearly undermines the lazy dichotomy between culture and science, because philosophers study the concepts, ethics and foundations of every domain from art to zoology from within, and many philosophers are also highly expert in the most relevant other disciplines

Do the powers that be fear that philosophy corrupts the young, or do they want to stop its incessant questioning and demand for answers?

Students at UWE Philosophy have launched a petition which expresses how they feel about the programme and its threatened closure, which can be found (and signed) here.

As Julian Baggini has pointed out on twitter, it is particularly strange given that the university continues to promote itself online by highlighting its philosophy programme’s excellent NSS and league-table scores (see UWE’s website here).

On Weds 17th June 2020, the British Philosophical Association and other subject associations wrote to UK government ministers calling for significant changes in the way that higher education is funded and supported. As UK higher education institutions reportedly fall in the global rankings, forty-nine professional associations representing diverse academic research fields and thousands of UK-based academics are calling for “a new deal for higher education.”

The letter points out that the sharp drop in universities’ income, as a result of a fall in student numbers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, will endanger the ability of the UK Higher Education sector to maintain excellence in education and research, with grave consequences for the economy and society. UK public spending on higher education is the lowest among OECD countries, and comprises less than half of the average spending among the OECD’s other 34 countries, making UK universities particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in income from student numbers. Even before the pandemic nearly 25 percent of all UK universities were in deficit and this number will grow. In response, universities are announcing job cuts and even cuts to the range of courses and subjects being offered.

Dr Nicola Pratt, Vice President of British Society of Middle Eastern Studies, who helped organise the letter, said:

“Universities have a key role to play in developing innovative research, and providing each new generation with cultural knowledge as well as cutting edge skills and expertise. Indeed, higher education improves the life chances of individuals, enhances social mobility and is also a major employer in many parts of the country. Now more than ever we need to substantially increase public spending on universities, we need a new deal for higher education.”

You can read the full text of the letter here:  Open letter to Ministers of Education: A New Deal For Higher Education.

The British Philosophical Association has today written to the Minister of State for Universities and the Secretary of State for Education to draw attention to the many important contributions made by philosophers at UK institutions during the pandemic so far.

Professor Fiona Macpherson,  President of the BPA, wrote to government ministers to describe many of the ways that professional philosophers have been involved in discussions and policy making with regards to COVID-19. The contributions made by UK philosophers are being collected in a growing repository on the BPA’s website here. In her letter, Prof Macpherson also offered the government the BPA’s varied professional expertise to assist with understanding and responding to the challenges ahead of us.

The letter was sent to Michelle Donelan MP, Minister of State for Universities, and Gavin Williamson MP, Secretary of State for Education, as well as their opposite numbers in the Shadow cabinet: Emma Hardy MP, Shadow Minister for Further Education and Universities, and Rebecca Long Bailey MP, Shadow Education Secretary.  Copies were sent to those members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords who work with philosophical organisations and champion philosophical activities, including Baroness Onora O’Neill, Lord Melvin Bragg, Lord David Blunkett, Lord John Alderdice, Lord David Willetts, Jesse Norman MP and Barry Gardiner MP. In addition, the letter was sent to Prof Harcourt, AHRC Director of Research, Strategy and Innovation, and Prof Thompson, Executive Chair of the AHRC, to ensure that the major Research Council for funding academic research in philosophy is aware of the breadth of work that philosophers are providing during this crisis.

 

The BPA are delighted to learn that the number of examination entries for the philosophy A-Level are projected to rise again this year. AQA, the exam board offering the UK’s only A level in Philosophy, has started the process of recruiting new examiners for the 2020 summer series and beyond.

Although some teaching experience is preferred, new examiners will now be considered so long as they have a degree in philosophy. Appropriate training will then be provided.

The role is especially suited to postgraduate students who may have some time to dedicate to the job, most days, over approximately four weeks. This provides the opportunity to earn some extra money in a condensed time period, while forging connections between the academy and schools in education and assessment.

All applications should be submitted through the AQA web-site, where philosophy is listed under the humanities section. Just click the following link:

http://www.aqa.org.uk/about-us/become-an-examiner-or-moderator/examiner-vacancies

If you have any questions or queries about what the job entails, feel free to contact the chief philosophy examiner, Dr. Jonathan Birch, at j.c.p.birch@gmail.com

The UK Government’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills have appointed Lord Nicholas Stern to review the Research Excellence Framework. They issued a ’call for evidence’ in January 2016 (here), in order to (in their words) “explore some of the issues raised and investigate ways in which a simpler, lighter-touch, system for the REF might be developed.” The BPA contacted Heads of Departments of Philosophy around the UK to solicit responses, and we’re grateful to all of those who replied. We were helped enormously by Prof Alexander Bird, who was the Chair of the REF panel for philosophy in 2014 – his insights about the most pertinent issues likely to affect philosophy have been enormously useful. Our response is available here.

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