Minister hesitant to decolonise syllabuses

The universities minister Sam Gyimah has spoken out against decolonising university curriculums amid calls from students to study more work by writers from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

Gyimah cautioned universities about removing specific writers and ideas from courses, purely because they are not students’ favourite topics.

He also stressed that part of the challenge of higher education involves studying aspects course which may be disliked.

“What we should be cautious of – and this is caution – is phasing out parts of the curriculum that just happen to be unpopular or unfashionable,” Gyimah said.

“I genuinely believe that part of the university experience is actually facing up to the unpopular, facing up to the unfashionable, engaging with it, challenging it, that is how you widen your horizons.”

His comments follow an announcement earlier this month from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), who said the university is decolonising its curriculums. Baroness Amos, Director of SOAS, said the university is doing this as part of a cultural shift.

Students at SOAS previously made requests to have philosophical figures like Plato and Descartes to be phased out of syllabuses, to give a larger focus on philosophers from Africa and Asia.

In November last year, the University of Cambridge made headlines after their English department began discussing plans to include more postcolonial and BAME writers in their syllabus.

UEA SU ethnic minorities officer Amani Mathurin defended Cambridge’s decision. She said: “Universities like UEA should be radical on this issue – recognising that curriculum diversity isn’t a call for the exclusion of white men from reading lists, but instead is a call to recognise and include the work of marginalised writers who have been silenced by history.”

Commenting on UEA’s stance, head of literature Dr Jeremy Noel-Tod said at the time: “I’ve made a school-wide conversation about diversity in the curriculum one of my priorities this year.

“We know that students feel strongly about this and it is important to show that, as academic staff, we do too.”


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August 2022
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