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.