New Social Sciences Tripos planned

Neil Simpson – News Reporter 31 January 2010

A proposal to create a Social Sciences Tripos (SST), along the lines of the Natural Sciences Tripos, has met with a mixture of applause, confusion and derision. Controversially, the proposal suggests removing the Education Tripos, placing education within the framework of the proposed new tripos. While the review committee admitted that there was still “much detail” needing to be worked through, they nevertheless maintained that the proposal “sets out an appropriate general direction” for Cambridge social sciences.

The SST aims to increase interdisciplinary collaboration and effective use of resources. Sam Wakeford, the CUSU Education Officer, stressed that the proposal could potentially offer students a greater degree of choice and flexibility. This has been welcomed by Professor Thompson at the Department of Sociology: “Sociology has always been part of an interdisciplinary faculty at Cambridge and thrives in close collaboration with kindred subjects.” The review committee also aims to roll back the “fragmentation” of Social Sciences, which was deemed to be “in stark contrast to those institutions in the UK that out-performed us”.

Yet the report has been rejected by the Faculty of Education which “strongly opposes the withdrawal” of the Tripos. One senior member told The Cambridge Student (TCS) that ending the Tripos would be met with “incredulity” from other institutes, considering the high reputation of the faculty, increased intake last year and upgraded curriculum. Education is the only area of the University where students can study drama as a performing art and film studies; it remains unclear how these areas would be affected with the introduction of SST. Morag Styles, who has been with the department since 1974, told TCS that the Tripos continued to maintain a strong undergraduate course, and achieved excellent results: “It would be a catastrophe to lose it.”

Clémentine Beauvais, a postgraduate who took Education as an undergraduate, said the current Tripos “was very well run” and the ratio of supervisors to students high. Clementine noted the proposal could be harmful to her job prospects and risks devaluing her degree: “By scrapping the Tripos, the University are sending a very negative message as to where their priorities lie.” Dr Hirsch, from the Faculty of Education, told TCS that the review seemed to be an excuse “for asset stripping; a plot designed to rob Peter to pay Paul, or to shore up another Tripos which is in trouble.” What other reason, asked Dr Hirsch, could there be for ending the Education Tripos – a course considered one of the best in the country? While the committee denied the review was “motivated by financial considerations” it did accept that in restructuring departments and creating the SST programme, they stood a better chance of attracting external funding. The review also accepted the needs for efficiency during “a climate of financial constraint.”

Controversially, the Committee deemed the Education Tripos “not presently cost-effective” and attracting “applicants whose A Level module scores do not match those in other subjects and who therefore do not necessarily rank as being of the highest quality (in a Cambridge context).” Yet one senior faculty member told TCS that the undergraduate course remains “economically viable”. They also “strongly refuted” the suggestion that students studying education were less capable than fellow Cambridge students.

The proposal acknowledged that the recommendations may not be “universally welcomed” but considered them in the “best interests of the University”. Subject to the approval of Regent House, the changes will come into effect from 2012.

Neil Simpson – News Reporter