Last of the Westland Whigs

In the late 17th century, the 'Westland Whigs' were the radical descendants of earlier Covenanters who had defied the absolutist rule of Stuart kings in south west Scotland.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

New Humanties College for Dumfries?

Letter to Scotsman.

Dear Sir,
I read the report (Scotsman, 6 July) on the New College of the Humanities planned for London with a rather jaundiced eye. Scotland has had a ‘College of the Humanities’ since 1999, when Glasgow University’s Dumfries campus was opened. With its emphasis on the Liberal Arts, students at the Dumfries campus have, in Professor Grayling‘s words, been “challenged to develop as skilled, in formed and reflective thinkers” and have received an education to match those aspirations.

In January 2007, the Dumfries campus was threatened with closure. Thanks to a strong community campaign and additional funding provided by the new SNP government, the threat was lifted in August 2007. This year the threat has returned. It seems likely that on 22 June the Court of Glasgow University will decide to end Liberal Arts courses (Philosophy, History and Literature) in Dumfries.

Responding to the challenge posed by the £18 000 a year New College of the Humanities, the Scottish Government state that access to education should be based on “the ability to learn rather than the ability to pay”. If so, then rather than permit the closure of the
“ college of the humanities“ in Dumfries, the Scottish Government should insist on its development and expansion as an accessible alternative.

Alistair Livingston

Letter to Herald

Dear Sir,
I have just been looking through the Herald archives from 2007 for reports on the struggle to save Glasgow University’s Dumfries campus. As a (post-graduate) participant, I vividly recall how initial despair in January was transformed into celebration in August when the threat of closure was lifted. But, as I noted in a letter published 22 August 2007, ‘the fight goes on’. My concern was that although the new SNP government had found £1.5 million to lift the immediate threat of closure, in the longer term the threat would remain.

Four years on, the threat has returned. On 22 June, the Court of Glasgow University seem likely to nod through the closure of Philosophy, History and Literature (Liberal Arts) courses at Dumfries. They will be replaced by courses on Environmental Studies. Yet, since it was established in 1999, the main focus of Glasgow University’s Dumfries campus has been on the Liberal Arts. To shift the focus away from the Liberal Arts is likely to reduce student numbers, making the Dumfries campus unsustainable.

Surveying his ‘modern age’ from Craigenputtock farm in Dumfriesshire in 1829, Thomas Carlyle described it as the Mechanical Age, the age of steam power and the industrial revolution. Our age is the Information Age, an age in which we are deluged with ‘information’, as instantly available in the most remote rural location as in the heart of the largest city. In this age of information, the ability to critically assess and analyse the value of information sources and transform them into useful knowledge is an absolutely vital and practical skill

Liberal Arts students gain access to the power of such critical knowledge through being
“ challenged to develop as skilled, informed and reflective thinkers”. Or so Professor AC Grayling claims. Unlike Glasgow University, a group of eminent academics including Professor Grayling (Herald, 6 June) are convinced of the importance of the Liberal Arts and plan to establish a New College of the Humanities in London. However, it is unlikely that many students from Dumfries and Galloway will be able to afford the £18 000 fees the New College of the Humanities will charge.

Alistair Livingston


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