Outrage over UK university’s plan to cut African history course and its professor

Hakim Adi founded the master’s by research course in the history of Africa and the African diaspora. Photograph: Hakim Adi

Aamna Mohdin 

Community affairs correspondent

The Guardian

A university has come under fire for proposing to make the first British person of African heritage to become a professor of history in the UK redundant and cut the course he runs.

Prof Hakim Adi, an academic and expert in the history of Africa and the African diaspora is at risk of termination by the University of Chichester, which has suspended all recruitment to the master’s by research (MRes) course in the history of Africa and the African diaspora.

The decision has sparked outrage among current and former students, who say Adi has led the way for successive historians of African descent and other underrepresented communities in the UK.

Adi has worked at the University of Chichester for more than a decade, and founded the MRes in 2017.

In an open letter to the vice-chancellor, Prof Jane Longmore, campaigners note that the MRes was largely created to train mature students of African and Caribbean heritage as historians. Since its creation, seven MRes students have gone on to undertake studies at PhD level, six of them at the University of Chichester.

Nearly 5,000 people have signed a petition against Adi’s proposed redundancy and suspension of recruitment for the course.

Adi said: “A unique course is being shut down; a master’s-level course in Britain, in Europe, in the world, that focuses on the history of Africa and the African diaspora. It is a course that was set up to train historians, especially those of African and Caribbean heritage, which is being lost, and there’s nothing to replace it.

“It’s worth saying that not only for future students who won’t have the opportunity, but if I’m made redundant, my current PhD and master’s students will have no one to supervise them as no one else in the university has that expertise.”

The Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy has tabled an early day motion in parliament, which was supported by two other Labour MPs. The motion expresses disappointment at the recent announcement and that “the University of Chichester has chosen to tie Professor Adi’s employment to the master’s by research, despite him being in post for several years before the course began”.

The University of Chichester would not comment on a staff member’s employment status.

But a spokesperson said the university had made the difficult decision to suspend or close a number of postgraduate courses that were not viable as the cost of delivery outweighed the income from fees received. The MRes in the history of Africa and the African diaspora was suspended after a review by the curriculum planning committee.

 The spokesperson added: “Since the programme launched in 2017, the university has invested over £700,000 into the delivery of this programme but has only received £150,000 of tuition fees during this same time period.”

Adi described his proposed redundancy and the suspension of the master’s as an attack on black history and the training of black historians. “There are already too few students of African and Caribbean heritage; that’s why the course was set up. The aim was to have a course that could make a difference. It has made a difference.”

He added that the figures released by the university on the investment it put into the course were “astonishing” and had not been previously provided to him. He added: “If they actually had that money to spend, they should have provided student bursaries and recruited students. It shows considerable incompetence if their figure is accurate.”

Claudia Tomlinson, who was the first MRes graduate to receive her PhD at the University of Chichester, described the move by the university as extremely disappointing and said many students had selected the University of Chichester for the opportunity to be supervised by Adi.

She said: “I myself was in the process of applying to Soas … but having attended one of his book launches and one of his talks, it was clear that his ethos is much more about creating the climate within Britain and globally for the development and spread of inclusive academic practice that’s aligned with activities to improve the opportunities and chances of oppressed people, specifically those from an African and Caribbean heritage.”

A spokesperson for the University of Chichester said: “The university supported the launch of the MRes in the history of Africa and the African diaspora course in 2017, recognising this important subject matter. However, despite extensive marketing of the programme across all major postgraduate channels and social media, the course has always recruited a relatively small number of students.”

The spokesperson added that it would work to support staff and students affected by the decisions.

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