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Black Studies course coming to Birmingham City University

HOPES: Dr. Kehinde Andrews says there is interest in the course from prospective international students

APPLICATIONS ARE well on target for the UK’s first undergraduate degree course in Black Studies, which will be launched at Birmingham City University (BCU) in seven months’ time.

There is a mixture of pride and astonishment from the academics leading the three-year BA honours degree: they’re proud to be running the first course of its kind in Britain, but astounded that it isn’t already out there.

“There’s been huge interest and we’re well on the way to make our target,” said Dr. Kehinde Andrews, associate professor in sociology at BCU and the man who has pioneered the course which he says is long overdue.

Exchanges

“It’s encouraging to see that there’s a good mix of students enrolling – the majority are 18 to 19 year-olds but we also have more mature students than we would normally have who are entering university for the first time. People can still apply for the course through UCAS.

“We also have some international students and we’re talking to universities in America and possible Jamaica too about exchanges.

“Birmingham is the perfect place to launch Black Studies, being one of Europe’s most diverse cities, with a strong history of community activism – however, the fact that it’s never been done before demonstrates the crisis at the heart of British academia.”

PAVING THE WAY: Goldsmiths College, University of London

The only other university in the UK believed to be offering a specific black-centric course is the University of London’s Goldsmith’s College, which launched its Centre for Caribbean and Diaspora Studies more than three decades ago. In 2015, it launched a world first – an MA in black British writing, which has been widely acclaimed.

BCU’s interdisciplinary Black Studies course aims to “focus attention on the experiences, perspectives and contributions of people from the African Diaspora”.

Dr. Andrews is keen to emphasise that it will be rooted in the real world, offering students the vital skills needed in an ever-changing society. He said:

“We’re keen to embed into the course the experience of real work. Students will have placements and make work connections in the public, private and voluntary sectors.

“They will be encouraged to work with organisations that bring benefit to the community in both a specific and broader sense.

“They will also be encouraged to set up their own social enterprises that will increase their skills and confidence, gaining real-life experiences outside of the classroom.”

He said there were also plans to take the course into the UK prison system, as there was clearly a demand.

Dr. Andrews, who chairs Birmingham’s Organisation of Black Unity, added that research has shown that 80 per cent of graduate employers are not interested in the subject of the degree studied – it’s the quality of the degree achieved which is far more important.

He told The Voice:

“While 75 per cent of white students seem to achieve a 2:1 degree, only 60 per cent of black students achieve this – with a course that reflects their own heritage and backgrounds, they are bound to do better and be more engaged.”

Internationally renowned educator Dr. Martin Glynn is among the six-strong team of full-time black academics at BCU, who has three decades of experience working in the criminal justice system. He has stressed that the course is crucial to improve the ‘disconnect’ between the community and academia.

“The moment the course becomes too academic, it will start to die,” he told The Voice.

“If our history was truly reflected, then the need for such a course would be drastically reduced.
Sadly, Black Studies are often seen as controversial because so much of our history has been hidden, silent and absent.”

Dr. Lisa Palmer, BCU senior lecturer in sociology, who last year co-edited the book Blackness in Britain with Dr. Andrews, said:

“I think it’s important that we’re building on the Birmingham-based legacies of such people as Paul Gilroy and Jamaican-born academic Dr. Stuart Hall, who developed the Centre for Contemporary Studies at the University of Birmingham in the 1960s.

“Therefore, it’s no accident that Birmingham as a city is leading the way again with this degree.

“I just hope that in five years’ time, with the course well established, that we’ll be able to see that the black experience in the UK is no longer marginalised and pushed to one side.”

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