CHAIR'S REPORT: 1999-2000

R. W. SHARPLES

With the Year of Subject Review for Classics impending, it is not inappropriate that much of the Council's activity in the past year has been concerned with the way in which individuals' progression through the various stages of studying our subject both reflects and shapes the nature of the subject as a whole, both in terms of what is studied at each stage - and indeed of just how 'stages' are to be distinguished in an inherently flexible subject - and in terms of the support available, especially to postgraduates and to researchers. Even if the stimulus for considering these issues has in part come from consultations by other bodies, they are matters we need to bear constantly in mind, for the future of the subject depends on them.

Much activity this year has indeed been devoted to formulating responses to consultations by collecting opinions from member departments; we welcome these opportunities to make our views known. Our response to the QAA consultation on Qualifications Frameworks was submitted on the 16th of December; it noted that the QAA had modified its position with regard to MA and BA language teaching, but had not modified its opposition to the issue of the award of the M.Phil. on the basis of a lower standard of achievement in the examination for a Ph.D, rather than on the basis of a quite separate examination. Our response also included comments from Glasgow concerning the proposed definitions of Honours and Pass degrees, which seemed to imply an unrealistic amount of separate teaching for the two types of degree. In March we commented on the Classics Benchmarking statement, noting anxieties that Classical Archaeology might fall between the two stools of Classics on the one hand and Archaeology on the other, and that stress on the need to make beginning language courses available to students at all stage of their degrees might undermine programmes in institutions with relatively little language provision. As ever, it was a matter of steering between Scylla and Charybdis.

Our response in January to the British Academy consultation on research support expressed the view that Academy grants to individuals should not include money for replacement teaching, for the reason, suggested indeed by the Academy itself, that the sums available would not be sufficient, and also because this could reinforce the trend towards poor payment of part-time teachers. We also rejected generally the suggestion that the upper limit of £5,000 for Academy grants should be increased, though we felt that a few grants of up to £7,000 might be made available for scholars at an early stage in their careers. If there was a proposal for increased Academy funding for archaeology, on the grounds that the AHRB was focusing its own grants on fewer and larger excavations, such Academy funding should be ring-fenced, so as not to erode that available for other areas. In responding in April to the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council document 'Research and the Knowledge Age' we drew heavily on a very full set of comments from St. Andrews, in particular emphasising the UK-wide and indeed international aspects of our subject.

In responding in October to the British Academy review of Graduate Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences we emphasised three issues. One was the difficulty experienced by British postgraduates in obtaining funding; the resulting international composition of the student body at postgraduate level was a strength in itself - and showed how highly UK Classics is regarded in other countries - but raises anxieties for the future of the subject in this country. A second anxiety concerned the effect of pressure to complete a PhD within four years (including the writing-up period); not only is there a tension between this and the increasing need for even full-time postgraduates to support themselves by working, but it was also felt that it may be making British students in particular, with less breadth and depth of previous linguistic training than formerly, less willing to specialise in areas such as papyrology, epigraphy and the close study of texts. While we have emphasised that the PhD is not and should not be seen purely as training for future academic staff, none the less this change in emphasis in the areas studied has implications for the future supply of staff in our subject; and this was reinforced by the third point, the relative unattractiveness of an academic career when low relative levels of pay are combined with the loss of most of the traditional compensations for it.

Language acquisition was also a major issue at the Council session at the CA conference at Bristol in April, which was concerned with the PGCE in classical subjects. There were two panellists, Emma Clarke, at the time a Classics PGCE student at Cambridge, and Martin Forrest, who teaches for the PGCE in History PGCE at the University of the West of England. It emerged that in practice PGCE students currently need Latin A level as a qualification in order to gain employment, regardless of the Latin they may have done in their degree course. It was suggested that Classical departments should consider some form of external validation of the language aspects of their degrees, much in the way in which many degrees in fields other than the Humanities are approved by professional bodies. Another possibility would be the compiling of a register of the various ways in which Latin and Greek may be learned - ab initio in degree courses, though further education classes, at summer schools, etc. - with a view to making explicit just what level of proficiency each type of course leads to. As far as university departments are concerned, greater clarity about the level of understanding of the language that courses presuppose, and aim to reach, is part of the ethos of Subject review/Academic Review anyway, and the creation of such a register would as have the advantage, as a by-product, of providing a comprehensive listing of language-learning opportunities. The point was also made at the conference that in considering their language provision Classical departments need to bear in mind the interests of different groups of students, e.g. prospective teachers and also prospective researchers. Attendance at the Council session was limited (18 people in all), because of the competition from concurrent panels; this year's topic was particularly suited to the CA conference, which is attended by a considerable number of undergraduate and postgraduate students who may be potential teachers, but the Standing Committee feels that the need for a regular CUCD session on a specific topic every year has been lessened by the ease of electronic publicity and communication, and by the frequency of consultations on major issues. It therefore intends to propose to the Council that there should be no specific CUCD session at the CA conference in 2001.

The concerns about exclusivity raised by the Laura Spence case in the summer prompted the Standing Committee to ask what proportion of students taking classical subjects in universities have come from state schools, and we intend to seek information about this from UCAS. We understand that the funds for Gifted and Talented pupils in the Government's Excellence in Cities initiative could be applied for to support the attendance of pupils at summer schools, and intend to pursue this with JACT. Publicity for the subject generally, especially through the Web, is a concern; clearly close collaboration with the CA and with JACT is desirable here to avoid duplication. Attendance by students at the Postgraduate Fair which has been held in London in recent years has been disappointing, and the Standing Committee felt that the Web was probably a better medium both for publicising postgraduate study in classics in general to undergraduate students, and also for indicating the particular programmes that are available in various institutions.

Two other developments in the use of the CUCD Website have been the posting of a list of external examiners, to help departments avoid asking those who would be unable to help them because they are already heavily committed, and the posting of reports of Standing Committee meetings. The latter is part of a new strategy for communication with member departments, considered by the Standing Committee and to be put to Council at the November 2000 meeting. Because of the difficulty of keeping track of who in a department is the CUCD representative, it is proposed that formal communications will be sent to Heads of Department or their equivalents, but at the same time a message will be sent to the Classicists mailing list (classicists@listserv.liv.ac.uk) alerting all staff to its general contents. Where a response is required, that should again come from the contact, i.e. the Head of Department, both because responses from individuals might be unmanageable in number, and also because the Council is a Council of Classical Departments, rather than of Classicists. The arrangements for discussion of such communications and responses within departments are naturally a matter for local decision, but we hope that as many people as possible would be involved. As for representatives at actual Council meetings, it will as now be for departments to chose who should attend on their behalf; sometimes this may depend largely on availability. The Standing Committee is also proposing (and has indeed put it into effect provisionally for this year) that nominations for election to the Standing Committee at the November Council should be sent by Departments to the Secretary by the end of September.

The Chair has become a member of the advisory committees for the Learning and Teaching Support Network sub-centre in Classics, a major development about which Lorna Hardwick writes elsewhere in this issue of the Bulletin, and also for the new HUMBUL Web gateway at Oxford. Other activities of the Chair have included seeking clarification from the AHRB on its provision of travel funds for postgraduate award holders; communicating to the AHRB the Council's nominations for members of its research award panels; making representations to one institution in support of its classical programme; expressing support for colleagues in French secondary schools concerning a proposed reduction of the role of Greek and Latin there (though in fact consultation about our response was overtaken by events, i.e. the resignation of the Minister who had made the proposal); and communicating queries and responses between departments and the Chair of RAE panel 57.

R. W. Sharples
University College, London
October, 2000


CUCD Bulletin 29 (2000)
© Council of University Classical Departments 2000

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