Student: I enjoyed your lecture today. I find Africa fascinating.
Lecturer: Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Student: I want to study for a degree in African Studies
Lecturer: Er we don’t offer a course in that here.
Student: But the University of Harrogate does
Lecturer: Umm, well, we don’t here…
Student: I think we should make the university set up an African Studies course.
Student: If they didn’t listen we could have sit-ins and protest to the Vice-Chancellor and get the local papers in.
As far as I know this never happens in the UK. Students here select their subject of study on their UCAS form prior to arrival. Some universities will allow students to change course during or at the end of the first year. Students will protest if a university attempts to close down a department or a programme, but a protest aimed at getting the university to offer courses it doesn’t already teach or have the staff for? No way!
But at the US universities in Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur’s book, Student Activism and Curricular Change in Higher Education this is precisely what has happened as students have sort to pressure senior management to set up courses in Asian-American Studies, Women’s Studies and Queer Studies. When I began to read the book for review in Innovations in Education and Teaching International I was somewhat intrigued by this form of protest (the book opens with an account of students getting arrested for occupying the administrative building at the University of Texas).
The differences between US and British universities cannot be addressed in anything as short as a blog post. But whilst I have difficultly foreseeing these sorts of campaigns in British universities, I think that there is an interesting point here. For students unable to ‘go away’ for university many subjects are not available to them. For example students in many areas of England are unable to access a languages degree in their own Travel To Work Area (TTWA) or even in the next one. Students who live in the Welsh borders, parts of Lincolnshire, parts of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset and parts of North-East and North-West England are not within two TTWAs of a university which offers language degrees. I expect similar patterns would emerge for other subjects. Could students in the UK start lobbying for the provision of new courses in their university or locality?
Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur, Student Activism and Curricular Change in Higher Education (Ashgate, 2011).
My review in Innovations in Education and Teaching International