As the learned society and professional body for geography, the Society is concerned about reports that several university geography departments are under threat of closure, and that academic staff at others are at risk of redundancy.
The Society takes an overview of both research, and teaching and learning, in higher education across the UK, as well as working directly with governments on relevant policy matters. We also undertake a wide range of other activities supporting the discipline with school, public and professional audiences.
Demand for the subject is high and on an upward trajectory. In 2022, the uptake of geography at GCSE was at an all-time high and had risen by 100,000 students over the previous decade. Numbers at A Level similarly rose during 2022.
With more and more people concerned with, and committed to address, issues of climate change, sustainability, and social and economic inequality (issues at the core of geography), the numbers studying geography at university will also increase. However, as the range of departments and institutions offering geography degrees decreases, so do the range of opportunities for students looking to study geography, and this impacts on the ability of the discipline to be accessible to all.
Employers across the public and private sectors are expressing a need for geography graduates - people with the knowledge and skills fit for a green and digital economy and for a more equal (levelled-up) future. The recent creation of the Geography Profession in Government (now with more than 1,500 members) is one measure. Another is the establishment of the Geospatial Commission (embedded in the Cabinet Office) which exists to maximise the impact of the £11 billion value to the UK economy of geospatial data, skills, and innovation. More broadly, trained geographers will be instrumental in the transition to a high skill, low carbon economy, as evidenced by deliberations of the Green Jobs Taskforce, and to addressing sustained and endemic issues of inequality.
Geography is a broad discipline with intensive and specialist teaching and learning needs including fieldwork, laboratory work, spatial data and analytical training. That breadth of expertise is needed for a geography department to deliver a quality programme and a lively and stimulating learning environment – reducing the number of staff in a department stifles innovation and, inevitably, leads to a less attractive prospect to potential students. In contrast, sustaining staff levels allows departments, and the wider institutions, to seize opportunities and realise plans to expand into areas of growth.
In short, university geography departments create an environment and culture where research and scholarship is strong and outputs of that work have genuine impact. They train students who highly value their learning experience and who graduate with a distinctive suite of skills, knowledge and behaviours that are in demand by employers locally, regionally and nationally.
We strongly encourage all higher education institutions to sustain their geography departments at their current level to ensure they are positioned to help deliver on the university’s strategic objectives to meet the changing educational, cultural, personal and career needs of students of all ages.
If any UK geographers find their department at risk of closure, or posts within their department are at risk of redundancy, please contact us.