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Is this The End for English Lit degrees?

Sheffield Hallam University suspended the subject after the government threatened to withdraw funding for ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’

A UK University has suspended its English literature course for the 2023/24 academic year, following a government crackdown on so-called “low-value” degrees.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Dr Mary Pearce, an English literature lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, said that staff told the news just five minutes before a departmental away day.

Sheffield Hallam have not yet explained their rationale behind the decision, but Dr Pearce believes the university have axed the course for “largely economic” reasons and suggested that the decision was likely made in light of the government’s pledge to cull courses which have poor job return for graduates by withdrawing student loan funding from perceived ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’.

A recent survey found that English Literature was one of the worst-paying degrees in 2022, with graduates earning an average of £26,461.

“Humanities students either take a long time to get into conventional jobs or never reach the threshold where they have to pay back their loans – particularly those from less privileged social backgrounds,” Dr Pearce said. She added that she’d been informed the university would instead offer an “English Studies” degree, although she argued that the decision demonstrated “a very short-sighted understanding of what is valuable in a society”.

Many have criticised the decision on Twitter. “My English Literature degree isn’t just about ‘reading books’ it’s anthropology, politics, history, fine art, gender studies, critical-race theory, linguistics, psychology, all rolled into one. English Lit is the groundwork for humanity, if it dies then we are in big trouble,” one user wrote.

The demise of humanities feels is a class issue, bc we all know ‘Russell Groups’ will keep their English Lit degree bc only the private school kids (who are groomed to get top A-levels for RGs) should be granted the privilege of the humanities bc dad can get them a consulting job,” another said.

Dr Pearce was also critical of the decision on Twitter. “When was it ever more important in our history for young people to be able to manipulate language and to understand how they are manipulated by language and stories?” she wrote. “What kind of society will we have if there is no place for people from all social classes and backgrounds to have the chance to read and think (or to work in a bar for 2 years while they try to write a novel) before they have to make themselves compliant with the workplace?”

The move is in keeping with the ever-increasing commercialisation of education, where courses’ ‘value’ is judged by graduate earning potential, rather than cultural importance or student satisfaction and enjoyment.

A Sheffield Hallam University spokesperson said to The Telegraph: “As a large comprehensive university offering more than 600 undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, we keep our portfolio of courses under constant review to ensure that they align to the latest demands from students and employers.”

“A small number of courses are being suspended or closed, which has been communicated to the relevant staff. These changes do not involve job losses.”

“We continue to offer a wide range of learning opportunities across many disciplines. Whatever students choose to study at Sheffield Hallam, they will graduate with the confidence and skills to tackle real-world problems, having had the chance to complete work experience in every year of their chosen programme of study.”