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Statement on proposed changes to the Classics Department

Posted on 30/09/2011

In June 2011, Royal Holloway, University of London opened consultation on proposals to restructure its Department of Classics and Philosophy.

The proposals were designed in response to a poor financial position (a deficit of £365,000 last year), a poor performance in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise and difficulties in recruiting students in recent years. The College proposed withdrawing undergraduate degrees in Classics and Latin whilst retaining degrees in Classical Studies and Ancient History; moving Philosophy to Politics and International Relations; and merging the department with History, with the loss of six staff posts.

During the consultation period, contributions have been received from members of the Classics and Philosophy department, the subject association and a number of supporters from other universities, alumni and students.  

The College is convinced by arguments that Classics is a pivotal subject for the understanding of western civilisation, an important part of the history of Bedford and Royal Holloway Colleges and has significant overlap with the modules taught within Classical Studies and Ancient History. Therefore we have revised our proposals to recommend that the BA Classics be retained. College also recognises the importance of advanced teaching in classical languages, and it was never part of our proposals that this be reduced.

Considerations about the number of student places continue. These are complicated by Government proposals to remove AAB students from student control numbers, which means that the Department could potentially recruit an unlimited number of AAB students, but with a smaller overall target for non-AAB students. In recent years, the Department has performed below the sector average in AAB numbers, and there is cause for concern that expansion in Classics Departments higher in the league tables might reduce our AAB count further. Government plans mean that student control numbers for non AAB candidates will reduce by 8% anyway, irrespective of our proposals.

The Department would need twice as many students as it currently has in order to break even and, given the uncertainty about student numbers, concern remains about the Department’s financial position. With this and the retention of the BA Classics in mind, we have reviewed our proposals to reduce the number of staff by six.  We believe that an appropriate reduction would be four posts, thereby retaining two more than in our original proposals but still making essential savings. We would hope to achieve this through voluntary severance, job shares or redeployment, and we will work hard with staff to avoid any compulsory redundancy if at all possible.

The College is not convinced by arguments that Philosophy should not move to join the Department for Politics and International Relations, since the majority of joint honours students are shared with PIR, rather than with Classics. Our intention is to proceed with the transfer and to continue with our plans to develop a PPE programme. We will also continue to recommend that a joint post held with English will transfer to the English Department.

The College is persuaded by arguments that a merger with History into one department might undermine the standing of the Classics Department amongst its peers, yet the fact remains that the Department is too small to operate effectively alone. We are therefore recommending that the merger proceeds, but that the resulting body be called the ‘School of History and Classics’ to recognise the equal standing of both parties and to reflect that they have been joined to form a School, rather than merged into one Department, where both can benefit from the synergies within the Hellenic Centre, and within the teaching of Ancient and Byzantine history.

The College Management team will update College Council on their revised proposals at a meeting next Wednesday 5 October. However, consultation with staff and the Unions around issues such as voluntary severance and selection criteria continues. Council will consider the complete package of proposals and plans for implementation once discussions on these remaining issues have been concluded, which we hope will be in time for the Council meeting in late November.

Finally, the College has the greatest respect for the energy and passion shown by staff, students and alumni of the Classics Department throughout the consultation. With the proposed changes to student control numbers, the future of Classics is very much in their hands, and we hope that their enthusiasm for the subject will impress and draw future generations of high-calibre Classics students to Royal Holloway.

 



 
 
 

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