English Syllabus to Be “Decolonised” in Cambridge University

The University of Cambridge might include black and minority ethnic (BME) writers in its curriculum.

2 min read

The University of Cambridge has begun discussions to make its curriculum more inclusive by incorporating black and minority ethnic (BME) writers.

The move has been branded as "decolonising" the curriculum after Lola Olufemi, the Cambridge University Students' Union women's officer, wrote an open letter entitled 'Decolonising the English Faculty' challenging the traditional priorities of the syllabus which "elevates white male authors at the expense of all others".


The letter, signed by over 100 university students, called for the inclusion of two or more post-colonial and BME authors on every exam paper and moving post-colonial books out of the basement in the English Faculty and integrating them in the library cataloguing order among its many recommendations.

We believe that for the English department to truly boast academically rigorous thought and practice, non-white authors and postcolonial thought must be incorporated meaningfully into the curriculum
The letter 

It was taken up at the university's Teaching Forum earlier this month and the university said its conclusions will now be taken up by the faculty to arrive at a final decision on syllabus.

"While we can confirm a letter was received from a group of students taking the postcolonial paper, academic discussions are at a very early stage to look at how postcolonial literature is taught. Changes will not lead to any one author being dropped in favour of others – that is not the way the system works at Cambridge," said a spokesperson for Cambridge University.

He stressed that there has been no decision to alter the way English is taught at the university.

"The Teaching Forum is a body which has no decision making powers and its decision points are questions to be discussed by the faculty. The Education Committee in the faculty will look at those points in a robust academic debate," he added.

The university points out that there is no set curriculum as tutors individually lead the studies of their group of students and recommend their reading lists and those reading lists can include any author.

Post-colonialism is taught at the moment in a non-compulsory paper, with the faculty reviewing what papers to be kept as compulsory and non-compulsory.

Earlier this year, the Student Union at the London-based School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) had launched a similar campaign to decolonise the curriculum when it called for famous Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle to be replaced by philosophers from Asia or Africa as part of the university syllabus.

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