GMS and SMFS Statement Protesting UK University Redundancies

We write on behalf of the Gender and Medieval Studies (GMS) group and the Society of Medieval Feminist Scholarship (SMFS), which represent scholars working in medieval studies, to express our concern at the devastating cuts happening in over 70  universities across the UK.

Following the redundancies at Birkbeck, University of London, in 2023, and proposed devastating cuts at the University of Lincoln, this is the second year in which our annual conference has been hosted by an institution whose academics are at threat.

As the Queen Mary UCU’s list of current and recent redundancy and restructuring drives demonstrates, the decision-making processes behind these cuts seem to be disproportionately affecting humanities disciplines and subjects which have made the highest contribution towards feminist, gender and race studies, including arts, ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy, performance and history.

These are all subjects which universities frequently showcase and rely on as part of their EDI commitments and Athena Swan applications.  Meanwhile, the extraordinary work our scholars do in public engagement and changing narratives around medieval history, literature, art and performance is often the foundation of REF impact case studies (a major source of QR funding).

To cut humanities subjects so drastically is both short-sighted and fundamentally opposed to what Higher Education institutions should represent. In a world where critical thinkers and innovators, who often have expertise in global histories and challenges, are needed more than ever, shrinking the humanities is a dangerous act, leaving societies more open to unchallenged and unproblematized ideologies. 

While we appreciate many universities are currently at crisis point, and cuts are being made in response to this, the way they have been carried out at several institutions has shown little regard for the effects of these cuts on the mental health of their staff, the wellbeing of their undergraduate students, and the reduction in support and opportunities for postgraduates.

If the proposed cuts go ahead, there will be several places in the country where local students (often the most disadvantaged student demographic), will not be able to study literature, history, art or performance, let alone medieval studies, which not only add chronological diversity to the curriculum, but allow students to explore possibilities outside the hegemonic structures of modernity.

The likely effects of this cannot be overstated.  This will have long-lasting consequences on our field and on medieval studies more widely.  It will prematurely end the careers of well-established scholars, whilst removing training and employment opportunities for postgraduate and early career scholars.  A chilling number of those currently going through the redundancy and restructuring processes are scholars who have done some of the most important work in our field. 

We state our support for all those suffering the uncertainty and devastation of job losses. Since so many of our medieval studies colleagues work to dispel colonialist myths, countering right wing narratives that frequently seek to harness and misappropriate the ‘medieval’, such cuts risk fundamental freedoms. We call for an end to job losses in the humanities and for all Higher Education leaders to rethink their strategies for future economising.