Geography Futures: changes imminent in English univerisities

by Fiona Ferbrache

How much do you know about the current position of geography in English universities?

Of approximately 140 higher education institutions in England, around 80 offer honours degrees in geography.  In 2008-2009, roughly 22,500 students were enrolled in geography degrees, with 19,500 of these registered as full-time undergraduates (Castree, forthcoming).   However, this is likely to alter as many degree subjects, including geography, undergo immediate restructuring.

Towards the end of 2010, the UK government made two decisions that implicat the future of geography in English universities.  I refer here to cuts in government funding, which is likely to mean that national research councils have less funds to allocate (Labi & McMurtie, 2010); and the rise of the undergraduate fee baseline to £6,000 (Coughlan, 2010).  How these actions could impact research and teaching of geography in English universities is detailed in a commentary by Noel Castree in a forthcoming issue of The Geographical Journal. 

Castree concisely summarises the external drivers to change: reduced funding, rising tuition fees, and the increasingly influential role of the National Student Survey.  Castree offers realistic suggestions as to how university-based geographers might respond to these changes, and fundamentally urges us – as geographers – to fulfil the “significant potential to make the future of geography, rather than having it made for us by others” (p.5).  Overall, Castree’s commentary places geography clearly in its contemporary context and I feel that it offers us some reassurance towards our futures.

Castree, N. (in press) The Future of Geography in English Universities. The Geographical Journal. Forthcoming.

Coughlan, S. (2010) Students face tuition fees rising to £9,000.  BBC News online  November 03, 2010

Labi, A. & McMurtrie, B. (2010) British universities will see budget cuts of 40% under national austerity plan. The Chronicle of Higher Education.  October 22, 2010.

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