Greek, Latin and Ancient History have been taught at Birmingham since the foundation of the University in 1900 and are now under threat from dangerously short-sighted management practices. Yet, lecturers at UoB are now prevented by a bizarre confidentiality clause from bringing to public attention the serious threat posed by a proposal involving imminent redundancies in Classics and Ancient History. UoB’s proposal to make redundant a quarter of the Classics and Ancient History team at the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity is bewildering, especially in a year when student fees have climbed to £9,000 pa and the Government’s own UniStats website is focusing on student teaching experience as the core of university value.
UoB claims to be committed to Classics and Ancient History, but the plan to close the IAA, recently submitted to University Council, tells a different story. Although this year’s admissions round has been difficult across the sector, management has made an arbitrary decision to use 2012 admissions as a baseline, and as a spurious rationale for compulsory redundancies. A detailed plan for generating new business and increasing the numbers of the desired ABB+ students, produced by long-standing and senior members of IAA, has been ignored in favour of seeing this short-term ‘solution’ through. If the Head of College has his way, three prize-winning educators and leading scholars in Classics and Ancient History are in the firing line along with the quality of the student experience. The plan to replace two out of the three permanent staff with fixed-term, teaching-only posts is at odds with UoB’s status as a Russell Group university, apparently publicly committed to research-led teaching.
Indeed, Classics and Ancient History is facing a 25% reduction in non-professorial staff, with inevitable repercussions on the breadth of research and teaching available to students. In addition, the serious decline in Archaeology staffing will reduce the choices available to Classics and to Ancient History students, endangering recruitment and potentially leading to further redundancies in the future. The redundancies, rather than any institutional changes, are at the heart of the matter. We welcome some of the proposals, which provide an opportunity to respond to challenges related to student recruitment without the large number of job losses envisioned.
One element of the Review points the way forward. One group within the IAA, the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, has been given several years to fuse with the History department. No job losses are currently envisioned within the Centre, even though it currently recruits no undergraduate students of its own (unlike the other areas of the IAA where some areas facing redundancies have comparatively strong undergraduate recruitment). This is a far-sighted policy which will enrich the variety of modules available within History and boost the overall number of high calibre students applying to the University through that programme. It also reflects an important truth: many subjects have difficulty recruiting not because of any failing among staff but simply because the A level subjects which act as feeders have comparatively small student numbers. The University clearly believes that if students recruited via the much larger cohort of A-level History students are given access to Byzantine courses they will find them attractive. This move also helps ensure that the History degree has a distinctiveness compared to other History degrees nationally. This policy, which maintains as much of the skills’ base of the University as policy, and which also gives the University the best chance to recruit the highest quality students, is also one which should be applied to the other areas of the IAA (including Archaeology and Ancient History), and not just the Centre for Byzantine Studies. Surely Stonehenge and Roman Britain are as much part of British History as Clement Attlee’s government? Surely courses on those subjects are just as likely as one another to attract and enthuse the very best students?