History at University 2000

History Today’s review of current trends in historical study at British universities.

This is an opportune moment, amid continuing controversy about the universities, to consider history in higher education. Is the discipline becoming a minority interest, as the Jeremiahs have long been predicting? And how is the battle between &145;traditionalists’ and ‘postmodernists’ affecting historical study? Is the trend towards an unwholesome concentration on the 20th-century dictators being accentuated? How fares the past in the present? History Today’s recent questionnaire, sent to all institutions of higher education in Britain, does not provide all the answers but it certainly gives us clues aplenty.

Each year fewer sixth-formers opt for A-Level history. The trend is well established. But what of applications to read history in higher education? Several institutions are experiencing marked swings: up 50 per cent at the London School of Economics , for example, and down 50 per cent at the University of Teeside . There are increases at Leeds Metropolitan, Edinburgh, Keele, Nottingham, Sheffield and York , while falls are reported from Huddersfield, Nottingham Trent, Derby, and Ulster . At most other institutions there is stability, though some admissions tutors coyly report uncertainly as to exact figures. Overall there seems no sign of crisis, and most institutions have widened the prospective pool of applicants by considering those without history A Level. Malcolm Crook tells us that at Keele performance is not adversely affected by the lack of the A Level. The history department at Sheffield University has already made the decision to accept suitable students who gain the new AS qualification in history, even if they do not go on to complete the full A Level. Such a policy should increase the pool of potential applicants, though early indications are that only a small percentage of lower sixth-formers will fulfil government policy and take five AS subjects.

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