Update: UWE Response to My Letter

20 February 2013, 1144 EST

I have an update for those interested in the decision by the University of the West of England to shutter its Politics and IR programs.

Help Wanted...

Last night, I sent the following message to UWE Vice Chancellor Steven West:

19 February 2013

Dear Vice Chancellor West,

I learned today that the University of the West of England is seriously considering a decision to close its Politics and International Relations programs. I believe that would be a serious mistake and would urge you not to make it.

From what I understand, the decision will be part of a university effort to refocus coursework around skills and vocational training.

In the United States, some excellent recent scholarship demonstrates that liberal arts education is actually much more valuable than vocational and professional education. In the book Academically Adrift (University of Chicago, 2010), scholars Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa find that liberal arts students receive a far superior education compared to students enrolled in other degree program — and this is later reflected in the job market. The reason for the far better performance is academic rigor. Students pursuing traditional liberal arts majors showed “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills over time.” Students pursuing practical and applied fields — business, education, social work, and communications — were more likely to be at the bottom of their rankings.

Data on the Politics and IR webpage at UWE seem to confirm this US data by revealing that the overwhelming majority (over 90%) of IR students at your university are either employed or enrolled in additional courses of study six months after they complete the program.

None of this data speak to the field-dependent reasons for saving Politics and IR. Many of the world’s most important problems will require concerted political action in order to prevent disaster. The current policy stagnation on climate change, for example, has much more to do with international politics than it does natural or physical science. Similarly, the world continues to confront the tremendous problems of war, weapons proliferation, poverty, and hunger. In all these areas, the world needs people trained in politics and international relations to help understand the global issues, frame potential solutions, and build winning coalitions. Nation-states, nongovernmental organizations, international institutions, and global businesses will have to come together around these problem areas. Today’s Politics and IR students funnel into jobs in all of those entities.

Again, I urge you not to close Politics and IR at UWE.


Today’s reply was not encouraging. West said — and I’m paraphrasing because I hate to quote directly from a private email — that while he agreed Politics and IR provide an excellent education, programs are being asked to frame their arguments around practical application.

Readers, tell me, isn’t that precisely what I did in that message?

Here’s some more practical J-O-B information from Academically Adrift, via reporter Kevin Carey in the Chronicle of Higher Education, February 2012:

Despite a barren job market, only 3.1 percent of students who scored in the top 20 percent of the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which measures critical-thinking skills, were unemployed. Not infrequently, their colleges helped them land the jobs they had. Many struck out on their own and were engaged in civic affairs. Those who got married or cohabitated often did so with someone they met in college. For students like these, the college-driven job and mating markets are functioning as advertised.

Graduates who scored poorly on the CLA, by contrast, are leading very different lives. It’s true that business majors, who were singled out for low CLA scores in Academically Adrift, did better than most in finding jobs. But over all, students with poor CLA results are more likely to be living at home with their parents, burdened by credit-card debt, unmarried, and unemployed.

Readers, feel free to borrow any of my arguments in your own messages to Vice Chancellor Steven West at Steven.West@uwe.ac.uk.