Birmingham City University becomes first in Europe to offer black studies degree

Professor argues that the opportunity to study such a course in the UK is 'long overdue'

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Friday 20 May 2016 09:44 BST
(Image credit: Birmingham City University/Facebook)
(Image credit: Birmingham City University/Facebook)

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Birmingham City University is set to become the first in Europe to offer students a degree focused solely on black studies.

Launching in September 2017, the undergraduate BA honours course will focus on examining the histories, social movements, and contributions of people of African descent.

Dr Kehinde Andrews, associate professor in sociology at the university, described Birmingham as being “the perfect place” to launch such a degree, considering it is one of Europe’s most diverse cities, with a “strong history” of community activism and engagement.

Despite a long tradition of black studies courses being made available in the US, Dr Andrews argued that the opportunity to study such courses in the UK is long overdue.

The professor - who is currently engaged in a project examining the role of black radicalism in contemporary organisation against racial oppression - said: “For too long, UK universities have overlooked the experiences and perspectives of those in the African diaspora.

“The contributions of black scholars, activists, and communities have not been recognised, creating a limited curriculum.

“Student movements have recently demonstrated this across the country, complaining of a ‘narrow knowledge’ in universities, including the ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ campaign.”

Academics at Birmingham City University have an international reputation for research in the area of black studies, with recent projects focusing on the exploration of black men’s desistance from crime, as well as the influence of pop culture on young black British women.

Dr Andrews added: “The new degree offers students a critical understanding of British and global society, international study abroad opportunities, and experiences working to improve conditions in communities.”

Malia Bouattia, National Union of Students (NUS) black students’ officer and president-elect, commended all those involved in the move at the university, and encouraged other institutions to follow suit.

She described how she and her team have been “strong proponents” of the need to re-evaluate and liberate the curriculum, and said: “With the glorification of thinkers such as Galton and Pearson, two leaders in the now discredited field of eugenics, and the distinct lack of African and Caribbean academics - with just 87 professors out of over 22,000 - there is a clear need for a course which interrogates the history of the African diaspora.

“Black people still experience treatment which is disproportionate, excessive, and racist from the state, so a course which looks at creating social change - along with critical engagement with the wider community - is imperative.

“We hope this is the first step towards transforming our education system.”

Those interested in knowing more about the degree course can get more information at the university’s open day on 11 June.

Aside from the ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ campaign, students and teachers at an East London school recently launched a campaign calling for women and ethnic minorities to be fairly represented on the GCSE and A-levels curriculum after finding current reading lists being weighted in favour of “white, deceased, male writers.”

And Baroness Valerie Amos, director of SOAS, University of London, recently emphasised the importance of more black representation within the country’s higher education system.

Speaking to the Independent last month, she described how she was “astounded” to be the first black woman to lead a UK university, and said: “The number of black professors is incredibly low. It’s a cause for huge concern and must be a priority area for action.”

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