KU politics students campaign against course suspension

Students call for action after Kingston University’s Department of Politics, International Relations and Human Rights suspended the politics courses for the next academic year.

Student networks broke the news to the department’s undergraduates which have immediately formed a group called SaveKUPolitics that gathered hundreds of comments on social media.

“The student reps caught wind of it and reported back to us. After several emails from a multitude of students trying to get confirmation from the Dean and Vice-Chancellor we have had zero confirmation and have clearly been purposely left in the dark,” said Jess Nootenboom, a Level 6 student in Human Rights and Social Justice.

A Kingston University spokesperson said that the decision to suspend undergraduate student recruitment to politics courses for admissions in September 2021 for the academic year 2021/22 was made due to a low recruitment level in recent years.

“Recruitment to these courses has been falling over recent years. The university will be carrying out a review of wider plans for the politics department, in consultation with staff and students, over the coming months.

“The student experience is at the heart of our decisions as a university, and our priority is to provide teaching and support to help all students progress and graduate.

“The review will consider changes in the higher education environment, the needs of our students and employers, and they aim to build a sustainable and sought-after academic portfolio.”

However, politics students were left confused and upset by the decision, especially considering the high level of teaching and opportunities they have received throughout the course of their degrees, including the Human Rights Festival which invites guest speakers and audience members from all over the world.

“It’s very upsetting to find out the department that has made my university experience incredible is closing. It’s a shame that students that share a passion for the subjects in our diverse department will not get the same standard of education or receive the same opportunities that I have, as a result of this decision,” said Gabriella Maldonado, a level 6 student in Global Politics and International Relations.

A petition was promptly created to gather support to stop the department from potential closure and so far it has reached more than 1500 signatures.

The Political Studies Association, the British International Studies Association and the University Association for Contemporary European Studies have published a statement expressing their worry at Kingston University’s decision as well.

Besides signatures coming from current KU students, alumni and other UK universities, the campaigning group has also reached out to local MP Sir Ed Davey to ask for his support.

“I am so pleased with the support we have gained. I don’t believe the petition itself will encourage the university to change their minds on the issue but it is a way for us to clearly show how much support we have. We are politics students, we will go down as many avenues as it takes,” said Emily Hill, the creator of the petition and a level 5 student in Human Rights and Social Justice.

Foundation year students at the department have been informed that they will still be able to finish their studies but concerns regarding the quality of the degrees have risen.

Some of those that are fighting to keep the department open are alarmed at the prospect of politics becoming an exclusive course at Russell Group universities.

“Education, especially political education, should never be elitist and the Kingston University politics department is an excellent example of diversity,” commented Sarah Harrison, a foundation year student of Human Rights and Sociology.

The Kingston branch of the University and College Union (UCU) said they were formally told of the decision at the Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) meeting with senior management on March 9 but were not asked about the suspension of the courses nor they had the opportunity to discuss alternatives.

“We don’t think this decision is justified and we have asked for it to be suspended until actual substantive consultation has taken place. [..] National Student Survey (NSS) data reveals the politics course to be one of the best in the country and it has the highest Best Overall Course metric for a politics course in London,” said Kingston UCU.

The Union is worried about the impact this decision will have on Kingston’s national and international reputation as well as the possibility of lecturers and staff losing their jobs.

During the JNCC meeting, UCU asked for confirmation that there would be no compulsory redundancies but senior management was unable to ensure this.

The UCU said: “For staff who have worked themselves into the ground this year, shifting teaching on and off-line, having to fight for their health and safety at work and dealing with a pandemic both professionally and personally, this is a cruel kick in the teeth.”

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