Chair's report, 2003-2004

Graham Shipley

After the Year of the Consultation, the Year of the Nomination. Government intervention and scrutiny may often be unwelcome. They can pose dilemmas like those faced by the main characters in Iain Pears's Dream of Scipio, set in Provence at three times of crisis: the late Roman period, the thirteenth century, and the 1940s. Should one attempt to ameliorate the effects of a greater power? Or should one refuse to cooperate at all, and instead 'resist'? Since our overseers have not yet made their stated aim the destruction of classics, let alone of academic freedom, it is right that CUCD's members have taken the line of amelioration. Five years ago, the call went out (twice) for members to serve as specialist subject reviewers for the Quality Assurance Agency. There followed a biennium of review visits, which produced hotspots of confrontation. Thankfully, we were all mature enough to get over them. Given the stresses of that period, a CUCD Chair has to be grateful for the level of interest colleagues have shown this year in serving on the Arts & Humanities Research Board's new Peer Review College and on the Research Assessment Exercise subpanel. The right strategy must be to try to ensure that influential and sensible people are well placed to ensure the fairest possible outcomes in the distribution of research funding. We hope to see many awards of grants to classics, and a repetition in 2008 of the collective accolade given to our subjects in previous RAEs.

The machinery of democracy takes time and effort to maintain. I am particularly grateful to the Secretary and Treasurer, Philip Burton and Patty Baker respectively, for assisting with seemingly endless rounds of e-mails in the processes of collecting names to forward to higher places, or at least to Bristol. Costas Panayotakis, and before him Diana Spencer, have worked assiduously to assemble slates of candidates for our internal elections. Our editor, Teresa Morgan, completes her distinguished tenure of office with this issue. The value of the Bulletin (which, as we now know, members appreciate having both in paper form and on-line), and its potential to raise the profile of our subjects in those higher places, cannot be overstated. Our deeply researched statistics exercise, now in the capable hands of Paul Millett, is drawn on more and more by the media and those in touch with them. Nick Lowe continues to maintain our web presence. This is increasingly important, now that the national Classics Web - the brainchild of Charlotte Roueché, nurtured by Gabriel Bodard, and maintained by Ian Ruffell - is hosted by Glasgow at http://www.classics.ac.uk. It is bound to bring new visitors to our own website and offers us new opportunities to project what we do to Internet users.

The other salient feature of the 11 months since the day of England's World Cup victory (in rugby), when I had the honour to be elected Chair, has been a series of campaigns in defence of classics. The future of the last remaining Classics PGCE in Scotland, run until recently by Tony Williams at Jordanhill under the auspices of Strathclyde University, has exercised Standing Committee greatly. Numbers of schoolteacher vacancies in Scotland are held to be too low to justify the course's retention. CUCD has been able to point out the need for joined-up thinking: Jordanhill does receive applications from outside Scotland, and its graduates do not only teach there. University rectors, MPs (notably Tam Dalyell in both roles), MSPs, and academics have made strenuous efforts to ensure that classical teacher training in Scotland survives in some form, for the benefit of all the UK. At the time of writing, however, it is a case of 'watch this space'.

Economic calculations also underlie the pressure on some classicists to reduce the hours spent teaching languages to non-specialist students. Colleagues in more than one department comment that, though it occupies more contact hours than other teaching, it is light on preparation and marking and therefore impacts little upon research. CUCD's first response is to let departments know we are watching them, but in time we may have to express our concerns to universities. Departments must be entitled to justify courses in terms of criteria other than simplistic 'bottom line' costings per hour. Languages are surely justified if they are genuinely relevant to a programme, if they deliver quality outcomes (such as satisfied students who do better in other courses or take further languages), and if the staff are producing top-quality research at the same time. On the plus side, at least one department has decided to target languages at the students most likely to proceed to postgraduate work, surely a winning formula to put before a vice-chancellor. This approach also makes more sense than the Quality Assurance Agency's hitherto stubborn resistance to level 1 teaching being made available in years 2 and later, even when it delivers non-generic technical skills such as language or faunal identification. CUCD supports its members who are working to modify the QAA's position.

Ek nephelhs peletai chionos menos hde chalazhs, and we remain vigilant for bolts from the blue. On 10 June the Independent carried two relevant stories. The first was about the Department for Education and Skills supporting the Cambridge Latin Course E-learning Resource, which could make Latin available in every state school. The facing page reported the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance's decision to axe Greek and Latin at GSCE, AS, and A level along with archaeology and other 'minority' subjects. These are claimed to be uneconomic, even though several thousand students take Latin with AQA. The contradiction between the progressive thinking of the DfES and the AQA's specious market analysis was blatant. Once again, public figures and politicians rushed to defend classics, and for a moment it was all over the papers. We thank particularly Michael Fallon, MP, and Lord Faulkner of Worcester for bringing the issue before both Houses of Parliament. During an extended discussion in the Lords, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for education and skills, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, stated that 'the widespread criticism that the decision was taken without consultation ... has not gone unnoticed within the department'. Two weeks later, in an adjournment debate, her counterpart in the Commons, Stephen Twigg, MP, undertook to, 'write to the AQA to urge it to reconsider its decision, particularly in the light of its failure to consult widely before reaching it'. The signals from the top could not have been stronger; but the AQA dug it heels in and this issue, too, remains unresolved at the time of writing. It is now unclear whether the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has the power to ensure that at least one examinations board covers a minority subject, as we had believed it did. Apart from leaving the OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations Board) in a monopoly position, the episode raises an issue of great concern, if examinations in minority subjects (i.e. the majority of subjects) cannot be shielded from crude 'market' thinking. The impact on diversity in UK education - not least for ethnic minorities, as was pointed out in Parliament - could be grave.

The positives, however, are plain to see. These episodes demonstrated the strength of public support for classics, support which embraces many alumni of state schools and graduates of non-'golden triangle' universities. Our roster of known parliamentary supporters grows longer, and includes roughly equal numbers from all three main parties, an impressive number of whom have classical degrees. We will develop and regularize these contacts, particularly at Westminster but also in other UK parliaments and Strasbourg. As we enter a probable general election year, we may find MPs particularly willing to express support.

Another important development has been the intensification of discussion about postgraduate training and staff development. We bid farewell to the Classics section of the Learning and Teaching Subject Network in its former incarnation at the Open University, and await developments with interest. Our thanks as a subject community go to Lorna Hardwick and David Fitzpatrick for four years of productive collaboration, which will continue in various forms. In May, CUCD and LTSN co-sponsored a discussion on in-service training for university teachers of classical subjects, which impressively demonstrated the keen interest felt by younger and more senior staff alike. Outcomes, we understand, already include discussions within the new Higher Education Academy about how subject specialists can contribute to professional accreditation of university lecturers - surely better than having educationalists alone attempting to enthuse us with unfocused generic provision. These and other matters previously discussed through the LTSN's programme will continue to resonate in the coming months and years.

CUCD will want me to thank the members of Standing Committee who are demitting at the November Council: besides those mentioned above, Philip Hardie and Stephen Mitchell (unless either is re-elected). This year, it seems particularly fitting to thank especially Peter Jones, whose active liaison with parliamentarians and the media gives us such a strong public presence.

And finally back to the Independent. An on-line search today produced at least a dozen positive stories about classics since January, for which we can only grateful - and that's not counting Etruscan archaeology or the plethora of articles sparked by this year's unforgettable Olympics and Paralympics. I learned about Peter Snow's memories of Russell Meiggs, of Tim Pigott-Smith's enjoyment of classical theatre - and about who the Independent considers to be the 'stars' among us. (If you want to know if you made the cut, the relevant issue is dated 15 August.)

Graham Shipley
University of Leicester
October, 2004


CUCD Bulletin 33 (2004)
Copyright © Council of University Classical Departments 2004

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