A more considered approach to Heslington East

Subjects and departmental developments on the new campus.

Many students believe that the Heslington East expansion will be detrimental for the University. These commonly held fears are quite unfounded. York needs to grow in size in order to receive greater funding per student and, if academic standards can be at least maintained if not improved, attract fee paying non EU students who provide impoverished British universities with a financial life line that enable them to remain in the same league as their stateside counterparts. Additional factors to support the enlargement include benefits for the local economy (albeit a steep decline in Heslington house prices) and more places for applicants, allowing higher levels of participation in higher education and vocational training.

This is all well and good. The decision to create a Theatre, Film and Television department, however, is a grave misjudgement. I am not going to go on a rant about the worthlessness of “soft subjects” – subjects like English literature were once ridiculed by mainstream academia ? and I firmly believe that the critique and analysis of the media is vital when attempting to understand how modern society functions. I would personally go so far as to say that the university should feel compelled to pioneer leftfield subjects such as this which, despite their brilliant potential, are all too often shunned by conservative and rigid academic institutions so commonly associated with the British Higher Education system.

My disagreement stems from a simple opportunity cost consideration. I wholeheartedly believe that a media course would benefit the university but there are other subjects that should take priority. For me, a good example is Classics.

The university is – and hopefully will continue to be – blessed with an excellent record in the arts and social sciences. Classical studies represent a vital feature of any university’s departmental offerings and the fact that York doesn’t provide it reflects unfavourably on the university as a whole.

It’s almost impossible to think of a subject that doesn’t have foundations in the classical period. Ancient Greece was the birthplace of democracy and without Oedipus modern psychology would be but a fragment of what it is now.

There is also an abundance of excellent, young academics in the field that are eager to find teaching placements. An ambitious and innovative department would make for a refreshing alternative to the courses offered by other universities and would be perfectly placed to compliment other subjects. The same is true of other potential subjects in the social sciences such as anthropology.

What concerns me about the expansion is that the university, in a reckless wish to expand, might pass over the opportunity to strengthen existing areas ? such as the social sciences – in the desire to become a top end but catch-all establishment. This strategy is not only risky but could possibly result in complete failure. Only time will tell whether the large, Berkley style campus the planners wish to emulate will more accurately resemble a second rate establishment in the midst of decline.

4 comments

  1. >> It’s almost impossible to think of a subject that doesn’t have foundations in the classical period.

    Computer Science. The earliest you could date that back to is the mid-19th century and George Boole. You could probably count Electronics too!

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  2. I’m not a computer scientist nor an electroneer (or whatever it is they’re called), but don’t both subject derive quite a lot from the classical studies of logic and mathematics?

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  3. Logic in the classical sense is normally considered a branch of philosophy, so is really not applicable to the black and white worlds of True and False that the computing version of logic deals with, that’s handled by something called Boolean algebra which wasn’t theorised until the mid-19th century. Any link between classics and Computer Science you could draw would be tedious at best.

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  4. What is with the rant for classics? We need to appreciate the demand for subjects and media is much more popular than classics. Why not have a languages dept? Surely a uni like York should have one. Yet, the demand simply isn’t there and universities have to play to demand somewhat, because after all, they are businesses. Anthropology I imagine would be ridiculed in the same fashion as sociology is now and considered a soft subject. York not only has the academic expertise for a media, theatre and film dept but through the high numbers of students who applied for writing and performance, there is clearly a demand. Your analysis fails to take into account financial feasibility and rather rudely disregards York’s already established reputation as a great media teaching environment. In today’s society I think media has to be a priority over classics – the study of which forms the foundation and background for practically all existing courses at York – why separate it into a degree of its own?

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