Posted on Friday 19th October 2012
Update October 2012
Over the last 6 months the University of Birmingham has been looking at ways to ensure a viable future for archaeological research and teaching in Birmingham, against a background of falling student demand nationally, declining research income and diminishing commercial contracts. It has also been looking at ways for sustaining the study of Classics and Ancient History in the new highly competitive, context of admissions and research funding.
In early 2012 the University of Birmingham commissioned a review of activities within its Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity (IAA); this was informed by external expert opinion. In response the College of Arts & Law developed a set of proposals that was unanimously supported by the University Executive Board and University Council. These proposals were subject to a period of consultation with staff, during which time various ideas and suggestions were received. All these have been carefully considered, with the result that a number of changes have been made to the original proposals. These have now been agreed by the University Executive Board and the University Council.
An important aspect of the proposals is the establishment of a new integrated Department of Classics and Ancient History, which will combine the study of literature, languages, culture, history and archaeology of the Greco-Roman world, from the prehistoric Aegean to the later Roman Empire and on into the Byzantine world, as well as the reception of these cultures from the medieval world to the present day. Its scope will also extend to Egypt and the Ancient Near East, whose languages and cultures will be a major focus for research and study at all levels. The University will be supporting the investigation of various developments that could broaden and strengthen its classical offerings. The University is also proposing to create an academic post to pursue these development opportunities.
This Department, to be located within the School of History & Cultures, will sustain areas of distinctive strength in the various disciplines currently located within the IAA. The Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Greek studies (CBOMBGS) is also to be located in the School of History & Cultures, where the University envisages it will be able to continue to flourish and enjoy its well-deserved international reputation, as well as contribute more effectively to programmes in medieval and modern history.
A new Centre for Archaeological Studies is to be created within the School of History & Cultures to co-ordinate the varied archaeological activity at Birmingham. This Centre will draw on the expertise of the group of heritage and cultural archaeologists in the Ironbridge Institute, scientific archaeologists attached to our Heritage and Cultural Learning Hub, the classical world archaeologists in the Department of Classics and Ancient History, a Byzantine archaeologist in CBOMGS, scientific-environmental archaeologists in the School of Geography, Environmental and Earth Sciences, and historians with archaeological interests in the Department of History. Responsibilities of the Centre will include the delivery of undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes.
The Ironbridge Institute welcomed a new Director in January this year; the Director has now produced an ambitious development plan for the Institute, which will lead to an expanded suite of activities and ensure staff become more fully integrated with provision on Birmingham’s main campus in Edgbaston, to the benefit of all our students. The Institute will also be located within the School of History & Cultures, thereby making its expertise more readily available to a wider range of students.
The University has recently made a considerable financial investment in the Heritage and Cultural Learning Hub because we believe it is an area of distinctive excellence and an ambitious business plan for the Hub has recently been agreed. One of the co-directors of the Hub is an archaeologist.
The Need for Change
Change is required in the IAA to ensure the sustainability and quality of our provision; this involves the cessation of some activities and a consequent reduction in staffing. One key driver is student demand. In Classics and Ancient History, the challenge is to recruit students at the appropriate level of quality (namely ABB+ at A level) from a pool that has contracted, especially in 2012, and in the face of stiffer competition. In Archaeology, across the UK there has been a very significant decline in interest in studying the subject; as a result it is widely recognised that it will not be possible to sustain the current number of departments, programmes and staff in Archaeology. Consequently 15 staff are presently at risk of redundancy, subject to consideration by University redundancy panels, with 7 fixed term posts available for staff to apply for. So overall, if all mitigation opportunities were taken up, there would be 8 job losses as a result of these changes, of which 4 would be research posts in Project Archaeology.
As a result, it is proposed that 2012 will be the last intake to the Undergraduate Single Honours programme in Archaeology, since it has proved unable to attract sufficient applicants of the appropriate quality in recent years. However, other successful archaeological programmes, in particular Ancient History & Archaeology, will continue to be offered by the University and we plan to extend this offering by drawing on our interdisciplinary strengths to introduce a new History & Archaeology programme.
One consequence of the proposed organisational changes is that the Department of Classics and Ancient History, the Ironbridge Institute and the Centre for Archaeological Studies will replace the standalone Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, a proposal that has been welcomed by many staff on the basis that the association with History & Cultures will open a wider range of opportunities. This proposal has, however, led to rumours that Birmingham is planning to withdraw from the provision of Archaeology. This is very far from the truth as can be seen from the University’s commitment to sustaining our strongest Archaeology programmes, our support for the development of the Ironbridge Institute and the creation of a Centre for Archaeological Studies. The location of this Centre within the School of History & Cultures is expected to remove barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration that have impeded developments in the past. The University expects the Centre will have 9 or 10 archaeology professors/lecturers, compared to the current 13 staff.
A significant change is that so-called contract or project archaeology will cease. It has become increasingly difficult for universities to secure a sufficient volume of fully-costed work to sustain sizable teams of project archaeologists while also ensuring that such work generates high-quality research outputs. Commercial organisations do not operate with the same requirements and so can tender for project work at much lower cost; as a result a number of other universities have closed similar units.
During the consultation with staff the University received some concerns submitted collectively by the project archaeologists. After careful consideration the University decided that the concerns raised should be addressed as part of the formal consultation process as University ordinances make provision for formal consultation to consider such matters. As part of this consultation process the Head of College and College Head of HR met with the project archaeologists to discuss and respond in detail to the matters raised.The final proposals took in to consideration the issues that were raised in the document received.
The University is making every effort to ensure that current students will not be disadvantaged by these changes and that future students can benefit from a range of high quality, sustainable classical, ancient historical and archeological programmes. The proposals will not affect programmes and modules being delivered during 2012-13; a series of meetings with students was held between March and June 2012 to make clear our commitment to them. There will be a further meeting with students in autumn 2012 to continue discussions about the implementation of these proposals.
Professor Michael Whitby, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Arts & Law within which IAA is located, comments: ‘As an ancient historian I am committed to supporting the successful implementation of these proposals for the development of classics and archaeology at the University of Birmingham. Difficult decisions have had to be taken, in both the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity and the College of Arts & Law, but they were taken because it is clear that change is needed. We are grasping this opportunity to establish a reputation for exciting and distinctive programmes and research. We believe that the efforts of our staff will create sustainable flourishing units.’
These changes also reflect the University’s wider vision. Whilst the sector faces economic challenges, we are focused on ensuring a sustainable economic future built on the foundations of outstanding research and teaching and providing a first class experience for all our students.