November 15, 2010

The End of the Subject Centre Network

The Board of the Higher Education Academy met on 10th November to decide on the organisation's future structure and focus. The HEA's future work will concentrate on activity that supports institutions and their staff in improving teaching in higher education. The Board has agreed a range of services which will be built around three aspects of the student learning experience: teacher excellence, developing academic practice and institutional strategy. The HEA Board has stated that the Academy will continue to support academics in their disciplines. However, they are disbanding the Subject Centre network and, in the future, disciplinary work will be provided by a series of associates on fixed term contracts. These associates will generally be expected to support more than one disicpline. The changes are expected to be implemented over the academic year 2011-12 and there will be some (reduced) funding for the History Subject Centre to aid in the transition.

This announcement which comes only days after the publication of the Browne report and the government's Comprehensive Spending Review is a further setback for History in Higher Education (as well as in other sectors). In the short time that the History Subject Centre has been based at Warwick we have worked with some inspirational students and academics committed to enhancing History teaching and learning at the front line. It is difficult (if not impossible) to see how such communities of practice could be sustained within the proposed structure. Resources such as our highly-regarded website will be subsumed into a generic conglomerate.  

We are actively investigating possibilities of sustaining the History Subject Centre in a different guise outwith the Academy structure, not least since subject centres are widely regarded as the most valuable element within the HEA portfolio. We would be interested to hear your views and ideas, as well as your reactions to the more general HEA proposals. Our annual conference in April will offer an opportunity to discuss this along with the other challenges currently facing our discipline. If you value the work of the Subject Centre team please let us know. We are very grateful for your support.


- 4 comments by 0 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Kevin Brunton

    It’s hard to see how a more generic service will serve individual subject areas as effectively. Having collaborated with the English Subject Centre on a study of student experiences over the past couple of years I’ve come to appreciate what an extensive range of support they provide to academics in their field. As with History, the website is an excellent resource and the materials found there must be carried forward into any new system. If any means of continuing outside of the Academy structure can be found then I hope you are able to pursue this. Good luck for the future.

    16 Nov 2010, 09:29

  2. Sean Brawley

    What a tragedy. Writing from Australia I once described these Subject Centres as a “sublime idea” and they still are. These centres clearly provided the crucial translation work to bring SOTL into a disciplinary context. In Australia my colleagues know very little about the working of the HEA as a bureaucratic entity but they envy the Subject Centres. Given their autonomy I would have kept them and got rid of the York bureaucrats! The new model as described in the Times will be clearly unworkable. The so-called Associates will not have the time to pay much more than lip service and a single individual looking after a discipline (while better than we have here in Aust) is laughable. Vale subject centres. No wonder you lost the Empire!

    18 Nov 2010, 09:12

  3. David Pace

    This is such a great loss. The subject centres have made the UK the center of an international network of historians concerning about teaching and learning and has allowed ideas to spread much more quickly. The work of Paul Hyland, Alan Booth, Sarah Richardson, and many others has made the centres the envy of those of us working in the United States, and their departure will gravely interfere with the development of new approaches to teaching and learning in our disciplines. This is loss, a not only for students in the UK, but for those around the world. It is but the latest in a series of short-sighted decisions about higher education that have been made on both sides of the Atlantic.

    18 Nov 2010, 16:55

  4. Rosemary Gill

    I too am an Australian – I’ve just read Sean Brawley’s comment, and could not agree more. We’ve heard much about interdisciplinarity in my country, but little acknowledgement that this works only if respect is shown to the traditions, methodologies and innovations of each discipline involved. The History subject centre demonstrated this respect beautifully – that word is deserved – both in the nurture of its own discipline, and in its relations with the other two members of the CETL. It beggars belief that such a scholarly touchstone is to be abandoned. As for that toe-curling word, “generic”, it reminds me all too well of hours spent in so-called generic workshops for teaching, learning, supervision … These required not so much “adaptation of the historical model” as its evisceration. And now this is to be encouraged in the UK. It beggars belief.

    01 Dec 2010, 13:40


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