New 'Black Studies' degree: Is this what our education system needs?
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As of September 2017, Birmingham City University will be the first in Europe to offer a degree in ‘Black Studies’. This is huge news. According to BCU, the course will “focus on examining the histories, social movements and contributions of people of African descent” as it pertains to Britain – so this is not to be confused with similar courses offered at other UK establishments. This development at BCU is definitely a step in the right direction, as it incorporates the experiences of those in the African Diaspora into UK academia. For far too long, minority ethnic perspectives have been overlooked and those with insight into this country’s educational system have seen this. There has been a rise in university applications from BAME students which has resulted in a more diverse student body and yet this diversity is not reflected on curriculums. BAME influence on society has been second to none; from fields of British Art and Popular Culture to the Sciences and Politics, the list is endless. Sir Lenny Henry, Diane Abbott, Stephen Lawrence, Val McCalla, Baroness Valerie Amos, Ignatius Sancho, the impact of Lovers Rock and Grime scenes – they have all had an impact. Still, black students are consistently told that we are not important and our narratives are seemingly rendered non-existent. The fact that BCU have been courageous enough in such a climate as this to construct and offer a degree in ‘Black Studies’ is no mean feat. In an article, BCU’s Associate Professor of Sociology Kehinde Andrews stated: “When knowledge is so limited, it is damaging not only to black students, but it prevents us from understanding society as a whole”. UK academia needs to become more culturally integrated if social mobilisation is to continue. On the topic of integration, I have two main concerns about how the degree will fare in British society as it stands. The first is how useful it will be, particularly whilst the concept of it is still brand new and, in some ways, taboo. At the moment, ‘Black Studies’ is not going to rank among the top degrees by starting salary, as subjects like Engineering, Medicine and Computer Science do. Undergraduate tuition fees currently sit at a staggering £9,000 per year and fewer students are taking risks with their choices, because there’s nothing frivolous about being in £27,000 worth of debt. In fact there has been a recent petition over the repayment terms and charges of Student Loans. Many students do not have the luxury of studying solely for the purposes of interest or curiosity, even if they strongly identify with a particular area of study. For the average student, going to University is out of a necessity to secure a better, financially stable future by finding a job afterwards and forging a career. Subjects that are considered as less valuable by employers – like those in the social and creative fields – are not being chosen as much for undergraduate study. ‘Black Studies’ may well fall into that category; it may not be as popular or effective as a separate entity as it would if it were incorporated into mainstream, ‘traditional’ subjects, such as English and History. In order for this important and crucial subject to truly serve students, the UK’s corporate, educational and social infrastructure needs a major re-haul. These institutions need to acknowledge the monumental importance of black contribution. How? I do not profess to have all of the answers, but it can start through mass conversation which, to be honest, can only be propelled by the BAME community.
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