The chief exceptional items of business have been
Under (1), the Standing Committee had made a decision, endorsed by the November meeting of Council, to take part in the Subject Associations Pilot Projects scheme organized and funded by the QAA as part of their Graduate Standards Programme; bids were accepted from 14 subject associations, of which one was CUCD. The outcome was the 'Report to the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, December 1997' (an edited version of a draft prepared by the researcher for the project, Dr A.G. Keen). A copy of this report was circulated to all constituent members of CUCD at the end of 1997; it will therefore suffice to reproduce here no more than the title, abstract, and 'project summary':
Title:'A survey of types of degree programmes in Classical subjects currently on offer in UK universities and colleges; of types of teaching and assessment used; of criteria used for judging final degree results; of expected outcomes in terms of knowledge, understanding, and more general skills; and of the operation of the current system of external examiners.'
Abstract:'For a variety of reasons the patterns of teaching in Classical departments in the U.K. have in recent years changed considerably. In the light of these changes, a detailed survey of what is currently on offer, how it is taught, assessed and moderated (moderation now being the primary role of external examiners in most, but not all, cases), and with what expected outcomes, is timely. The results display above all the extraordinary diversity of undergraduate degree programmes in Classical subjects - a diversity which the changes in teaching patterns have themselves markedly increased; a large measure of agreement about outcomes, although these are in many respects only indirectly reflected in the assessment of final degree results; and a sense both of the usefulness of the present system of external examiners, and of the difficulties which affect it.'
Project summary:'1. The original project proposal was formulated with reference to Annex E (3) of the Draft Report of the GSP, 'Recommendations to subject/professional groups'. We decided that it would not be helpful to address 'generalised expectations for degrees' (§3.1: 'Range of degree expectations'); what we needed was rather a 'bottom-up' approach, beginning with a detailed survey (i) of the types of degree programmes actually being offered in Classical subjects across the UK, (ii) of the types of teaching and assessment used, (iii) of the overall criteria employed in judging the final degree result, and (iv) of the expected outcomes in terms of knowledge, understanding and more general skills, including those of the sort which would perhaps usually only be made explicit e.g. in references and testimonials written by individual tutors for the benefit of prospective employers. These points fell mainly under headings 3.2 ('Typology/profiling of programmes') and - possibly - 3.4 ('Development and use of archives, statistics and information') of Annex E (3). With reference to 3.3 ('External examiners'), we also thought it likely be helpful (v) to ask, for example, about the precise role accorded to external examiners, which can differ widely between institutions, and perhaps also (vi) to ask those who had served as external examiners themselves about what they saw themselves as contributing to the process.
2. In the event, the project itself has served to 'strengthen the involvement' (Draft Report §3.5) of CUCD in the debate on standards. It still remains to be established how, in practical terms, this subject association might be able to 'support institutions in the development of threshold standards for programmes and programme elements' (§3.6), given the multidisciplinary nature of the subject in question, and the marked diversity of both the programmes and the programme elements involved, which make the notion of 'core' elements in teaching less applicable than it is in many other subject areas (see Appendix below, §2). However these special aspects of Classics themselves make it essential that CUCD play the fullest possible part in the process of 'informing institutional standards' (ibid.), and the Council at its November meeting expressed its intention to do so. A system of standards set up with reference exclusively to less complex subjects would be in danger of impinging on the very nature of Classics itself, contrary to the implications of §7.3 of the Final Report of the GSP, and of §50 of the QAA response to the Dearing Report (September 1997; see Higher Quality 1/2, November 1997, p.12). At the same time, discussion of the issues as they affect Classics may well be relevant to those affecting other subjects which might broadly be described as non-standard, and also perhaps help to refine the classification of types of degree programmes suggested by §9.3-9 of the Dearing Report.'
So far as the QAA was concerned, the chief purpose of the report - as should be clear from the abstract and summary - was to impress on the Agency the special, and diverse, nature of Classical provision in UK universities; and, more generally, to ensure that the voice of Classics (in the broadest sense) should be heard in a process which looks likely to affect us all. (The report made no claim to exhaustiveness, being merely as full as was allowed by the six months allowed for its completion.) CUCD was then fully involved in the follow-up to the pilot projects, which culminated in a meeting of representatives of all subject associations in the spring of 1998. At this meeting, I chaired a panel discussion between subject association representatives and members of the QAA, including the Chief Executive, John Randall. The discussion did much to elucidate the then-current thinking of the Agency; since that time, direct involvement in the QAA's planning (including the setting up of subject groups to 'write standards') has been limited to only three subject associations, those for Chemistry, History, and Law. CUCD has received no direct communication from the QAA about developments since that meeting, but has continued to express concern about the dangers of using such relatively monolithic subject areas as templates - as in the following response, dated May 1998, to the consultation paper published in Higher Quality 1.3 (March 1998):
One tangible result of CUCD's negotiations with the QAA is implicit in §5 above: at first, the proposal had been to subsume Classics under another subject area (e.g. 'Foreign languages and related subjects'), but it now seems likely that it will be properly identified as a distinct subject area in any future arrangement. I had written to John Randall on this issue, and was set to discuss it with him when he came to see me in Durham in February 1998; but by the time I met him the QAA had already made the change. It is more than likely that we have Robin Jackson, then one of the senior staff-members of the QAA, to thank for this. Dr Jackson, himself a Classicist, has sadly now moved on (to the CVCP), but before his move he was extraordinarily helpful to us: he both addressed the November Council meeting, and came to participate in the CUCD panel meeting (on QA and related issues: especially the teaching of the ancient languages) at the Classical Association Annual Meeting in Lampeter in April 1998 (reported elsewhere in this issue).
Consultation: developing the quality assurance and standards framework for UK higher educationFollowing a meeting of its Standing Committee, the Council of University Classical Departments makes the following response to the consultation paper.
Response from the Council of University Classical Departments
- It goes without saying that we should prefer as light a touch in any future quality assurance procedures as is consistent with the legitimate requirements of stakeholders. Any reduction in the burden imposed by present procedures will be welcomed; a more differentiated approach, recognizing both the relative strengths and weakness of internal systems and performance in past reviews, may well be appropriate.
- We have serious concerns about too rigid an application of the concept of 'levels' in HE, which we think likely to be against the interests of its consumers, and to be incompatible with the very concept of lifelong learning. Students enter HE with widely differing backgrounds, and any system adopted must be flexible enough to recognize that fact. In particular, there must be reasonable scope in individual degree programmes, especially those of a multidisciplinary nature, for students to embark on different areas of study at different points, within the necessary limits imposed by the rationale, and progressive aspect, of overall programme structure. The outcomes of any multidisciplinary programme will themselves frequently include different levels of attainment in different areas, with higher levels in some areas and lower levels in others; embarking on a new discipline may itself represent a form of academic progression. (Economies of scale will also often necessitate the teaching of different cohorts together, given that the alternative will be an undesirable restriction of the choices available to students.) It is unclear to us to what extent the draft template for programme specification (Annex A of the consultation paper) is capable of meeting these points; but we urge that issues of programme specification and design should not be determined by criteria established from the perspective of single-subject degrees. The simple principle of progression, more easily applied in such degree programmes, needs to be balanced against, and combined with, the special advantages offered to students by multidisciplinary degree programmes, most importantly of exposure to a range of approaches and types of study which do not always or easily fall into a neat pattern of distinct levels. Some related issues are raised e.g. in §10 of Part III of the consultation paper, but clearly much work remains to be done if the special features of what may broadly be called non-standard subject areas are to be preserved.
- Our colleagues in the Open University have particular concerns about the application of some aspects of the paper in the context of the OU's specific (and necessarily specific) organisational structures.
- On the subject of REEs [Registered External Examiners] (Part VII), we have a clear preference for the 'possible variant' introduced in §20, chiefly in the light of the dangers of conflict of interest mentioned in §19 as attaching to the main model. We see such conflicts as unavoidable in any version of that model, if indeed any actual version turned out to be workable. However we should need further specification of the 'academic reviewers' which would be appointed by the Agency. The nomenclature of 'academic' reviewers suggests that the basic principle of peer review would be maintained; any panel of reviewers would also need to include individuals who were not only actively teaching and researching in the subject area under review, but of some standing, and able to command the respect of the reviewed. More generally, we should urge a solution along the lines of §20, conceived in the spirit of §27 (iv).
- In Annex B, in place of 'Classical Languages and Ancient History' we should prefer the HEFCE title 'Classics and Ancient History', both as more familiar, and as a more accurate reflection of the nature of the subject area.'
A further important outcome has been the recognition of CUCD as the subject association for Classics at university level, alongside e.g. the Council for College and University English and the History at the Universities Defence Group. The well-attended November 1997 Council meeting formally agreed that it was appropriate for CUCD to possess this status, which is fully in accord with its Constitution, originally drafted in October 1969 ('The aims of CUCD shall be ... to represent university classical studies at the national level'). Council at the same time agreed to a significant increase in subscriptions from member departments, as proposed by Standing Committee, taking the view that a subject association must be properly funded.
In case this should seem an example of pedantry, the status of CUCD is (or was) evidently not recognized by HEFCE, which failed to include it in the list in RAE 2/98 of 'bodies to nominate panel members' - though it also failed to include any of the mainstream Classical bodies in the list.
This takes me on to (2) above, and the RAE consultation papers. Quite how CUCD (and others) came to be omitted is not clear: there can be no doubt that CUCD did play a major role in the nomination process last time round, after full consultation with its members, and the general view seems to be that it is in any case the apprpriate body to carry out such consultation. However it is to be hoped that a flurry of correspondence from me and others will have succeeded in achieving the appropriate reinstatement(s). (HEFCE came as close as it could to accepting that there had been a clerical error on its part, without actually doing so; I was still asked to propose CUCD as a fresh nomination. In general, HEFCE's clerical procedures do not inspire much confidence: even after nearly two years, John Richardson is still having to forward HEFCE documents from Edinburgh to Durham.)
So much for RAE 2/98. As for 1/98 ('RAE 2001: key decisions and issues for further consultation') , Standing Committee will formulate a - no doubt prudently conservative - response to the seven questions in the 'Summary of issues for consultation' (§ 62-8 on p.14) at its meeting on 10 October 1998. Standing Committee's response to RAE 2/97, on behalf of Council, was as follows (6.3.98):
'Dear Mr Pilsbury,
Research Assessment: Consultation
I list some responses to the HEFCE consultation paper, on behalf of the Council of University of Classical Departments. The figures '1', '2', etc, refer to the question numbers in the paper.
- Funding bodies should continue to use a form of research assessment similar to previous exercises for allocating research funding. Such assessment should continue to be carried out quite separately from any other forms of assessment of quality in higher education.
- Research assessment must be concerned only with the question of research quality.
- Research assessment should cover all academic research, and adopt as broad and inclusive a definition of research as possible.
- There should be a single UK-wide exercise.
- The method of assessment should continue to be based primarily (and, where there are no easily identifiable 'users', in industry or elsewhere, exclusively: see 29) on peer review.
- The exercise should continue to be based only on single-discipline UOAs [Units of Assessment] (where 'single-discipline' is to be interpreted with appropriate flexibility, e.g. in multi-disciplinary areas).
- All submissions must conform to a common framework and common data definitions; but such definitions must not be so restrictive as to prevent panels from using their discretion in cases where hard and fast distinctions are impossible (see e.g. under 11. below).
(8), 9, 10. RAEs should measure research performance, not attempt to direct research; any overtly 'developmental' aspect is likely to be inconsistent with the principle stated under 2. above.
- The line between 'research' and 'other' activities is often hard to draw; panels must be allowed a degree of discretion - and be encouraged to be reasonably flexible - in deciding whether or not a particular activity contributes to a unit's overall research profile.
- The intervals between exercises should be long enough to allow the maturation of projects which will often by their very nature be long-term. Extending the census date backwards offers partial compensation, but is inconsistent with the prospective element of the exercise.
- Assessing only some subjects in any one year would threaten institutional autonomy in planning and the distribution of resources.
- Under no circumstances should an interim, 'opt-in' exercise be considered.
- There might conceivably be situations in which the Dearing Committee's proposal for incentives not to participate in the RAE would be appropriate; such a situation does not currently exist in any Classics or Classics-related department. The perceived costs of non-participation, even if such a course might benefit the teaching and learning experience of students, are likely currently to appear to any HEI to be prohibitive.
- Peer review should emphatically not be supplemented by quantitative methods, which appear to us always likely to prove more misleading than helpful.
- No element of self-assessment should be introduced beyond the sort already implicit in past exercises.
- ('Would an element of visiting improve the RAE?') No.
22, 23. So far as Classics and Ancient History are concerned, the present division of panels seems to work well.
25, 26. Common criteria and working methods for panels seem appropriate; however we should wish to resist any significant modification to the broad pattern of working established by Panel 57 in the 1996 exercise. Unless any formal mechanisms to ensure greater comparability allowed the continuation of what we consider good practice, we should be against them. On the other hand anecdotal reports of the operation of other panels do suggest that some greater control, and guidance, may be necessary (see e.g. 38 below).
- 32. Panels and panel chairs should continue to be selected as at present. We see no useful purpose in international 'moderation' for a subject which is already thoroughly 'international', and considerable practical obstacles to such a proposal.
- Provided that 'sub-areas' may include the work of a small group or even of a single individual, reference to sub-areas of research activity seems to us unobjectionable (cf. 38).
- HEIs should still be able to identify sub-areas.
- If there is a minimum number of staff required for the highest quality of research in any particular area or sub-area, this should surely be brought to the notice of HEIs immediately, and not left to be identified by the RAE (cf. 39: the views of subject communities will presumably be pivotal here). However in humanities research, quality will often or even normally bear no relation whatever to the size of the unit (even if the statistical outcomes of RAEs may sometimes suggest otherwise).
- It is essential that the RAE process should so far as possible reflect the civilized values that underpin research - at least in the humanities - itself, and not become an exercise in mere bureaucratic box-ticking. In this connection, it must be a matter of concern that the consultation paper fails significantly to address the 'negative effects' referred to in §12 (p.2), despite the statement that '[w]e discuss these further below'.
- Given that some form of assessment of research is inevitable, and that the RAE process as so far established is probably in most respects the least bad option, it is essential that there should be both a sense of continuity, and actual continuity, between exercises. Continuity in the chairing and membership of panels is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of this. Continuing consultation of the research community itself, on what must remain either primarily or (in many cases: see 5 above) exclusively a matter of peer review, is indispensable; but if the present system is 'robust, effective and acceptable' (Question 1), such consultation should be about the fine tuning of present practice, and not go on throwing up suggestions for wholesale reform.
[C.J.R., Chairman, CUCD]'.
Next (3) [see above], and our response (also 6.3.98) to the HRB consultation paper:
'Dear Dr Jubb,
Postgraduate Awards in Library and Information Science; Art and Design; and Certain Other Vocational Subjects
I respond briefly to the HRB's consultation paper on the above subject, as Chairman of the Council of University Classical Departments.
Most of the specific questions are clearly properly addressed to those working in the relevant areas. However there is one general question that arises, in the light especially of the statement in §5 that 'change is needed, in order to ensure that awards are allocated to students, courses and departments of the highest quality ...', and of the suggestion in §16-19 that the allocation of Bursary and Taught Studentship awards ought to be on a competitive basis. The overall implication of the consultation paper is that the allocation of awards in 'Arts' subjects should move in the direction of the model of allocation of postgraduate awards in the Humanities. This has prompted some members of the Standing Committee of CUCD to reflect on that model itself, and to ask whether there might not be some aspects of practice in the allocation of awards in Arts subjects which could with advantage be transferred to Humanities allocations. This question arises particularly in relation to the statement in §5, and to the reference to 'the need to ensure that awards are allocated to ... departments of the highest quality'. It may well be that the emphasis here is on the need to avoid allocating awards to departments which fail to meet the highest standards. However it seems likely to be wasteful not at the same time to take some positive account of the presence of quality in departments, and to try to ensure that the resource represented by good researchers and teachers and their expertise is not underused as a consequence of other factors (especially geographical location). The only available means of doing this is presumably a system of quotas awarded to specific departments. No doubt a system of allocation that relies on quotas rather than on quality is unacceptable; but that is not an argument for resisting quotas as such, only for ensuring that quotas themselves follow quality.
This suggests to some of us both that the allocation of awards in Arts should not wholly relinquish the principle of quotas, and that consideration should (again) be given to the introduction of at least a minimal quota system in the allocation of awards in Humanities. It may be, of course, that present practice with Humanities subjects in fact results in a distribution of awards which is at least not wildly out of line with the distribution of quality as measured by successive Research Assessment Exercises (the only measure currently available). Clearly, if that were the case, the present system would be justified, and there would be no need to address the considerable, and admitted, problems of operating any kind of quota system. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that at least in the area of Classics and related subjects there is a lack of fit between the distribution of awards and the distribution of quality between departments across the country, and were that anecdotal evidence to be confirmed, we think that it should be a matter of continuing concern to the HRB.
On the other hand, I must emphasize that this by no means a unanimous view of the Standing Committee of CUCD: some members spoke in favour of quotas, others against (particularly in the light of the practical problems).
[C.J.R., Chairman, CUCD]'.
Also in relation to the funding of research, I wrote the following letter (dated 10.12.97) on behalf of CUCD supporting the creation of a Humanities and Arts Research Council:
'Dear Baroness Blackstone,
Proposed Humanities Research Council
I write to you as Chairman of the Council of University Classical Departments in the UK to add our very strong support for the creation of a Humanities Research Council - or rather a Humanities and Arts Research Council - along the lines proposed in the Dearing Report.
The basic arguments for an HARC, to match the existing Research Councils, is made in the Report (and in the Appendix to the Report by the Chairman of the Humanities Research Board of the British Academy). That we think there is a powerful case for increased funding goes without saying; we believe that the Humanities - and still more the Arts - have consistently been underfunded, in proportion to the quality of work that has been and is being done. Without greater resources, and with the ever-greater pressures on direct university funding, we fear that our ability to maintain this country's leading position in Humanities research, which is everywhere recognized, is under serious threat.
The present situation, which - as I understand it - forces us to make a separate bid each year outside the Research Council mechanisms, and often to rely on opportunistic appeals to Ministers, is plainly unsatisfactory. I myself believe that the British Academy is in principle right to tie in the proposal for an HARC with the demand for additional resources; nevertheless the primary requirement appears to me to be for the regular place that an HARC would provide for the Humanities and the Arts within those structures that determine the overall levels of research funding in the UK.
Your government is committed to the principles of greater explicitness and transparency. It appears to us that the creation of a (properly resourced) HARC would be entirely consistent with those principles, and we hope that you will move towards it at the earliest possible opportunity.
[C.J.R., Chairman, CUCD]'.
[Copies to: The Rt Hon Mr David Blunkett, PC, MP; Dr Kim Howells, MP]
The view might be taken that Standing Committee ought to refer the large questions involved here and in the formal consultation processes to the wider membership. The Committee, however, takes the view (a) that it is in place to act for CUCD, (b) that its membership is sufficiently large and varied broadly to reflect the range of opinion that might be discovered among the membership (as is perhaps illustrated in the response to the HRB paper), and (c) that its resources, secretarial and otherwise, are in any case still not yet adequate to allow for the quantity of correspondence which would be involved. Response to the present Chairman's Report will no doubt indicate whether (b) is true. But I may add that the GSP pilot project itself (as described under (1) above) allowed a fairly widespread consultation on many of the central issues.
The most pressing of these is probably still that of the application of the concept of 'levels' within a subject area which includes a wide range of different disciplines and attracts students with widely different backgrounds, especially in terms of linguistic skills (and where the possibility of maintaining the diversity of options currently available will frequently depend on teaching different years together). In order to promote discussion of this issue, and keep it in members' minds, Standing Committee agreed to circulate a document, drafted by Peter Jones, and at his suggestion, at the beginning of the summer. This document, 'CLASSICS AND THE QAAHE', dated 27.7.98, was sent out to members on 7.8.98, with a request for comments to be sent to Peter Jones in Newcastle. I quote the preamble, which offers a convenient summary the problem:
'CUCD has been alerted by several of its constituent members to the possible dangers of the [QAA's] use of a simple, single-subject area as a template in planning its new Quality Assurance regime. In such areas, it is possible to envisage straightforward progress between 'levels' (of which eight are proposed, with university work beginning at 'level' 4). If such a model were transferred to Classics, it would have fatal consequences for most degrees in Classical subjects, especially in relation to beginners' language courses, which might well be assumed to occupy lower levels. Students would then be debarred from taking such courses in any year other than the first, or perhaps even at all. (One set of university administrators has already tried to intervene in course-planning in anticipation of such a move, though there are hopes that they may be headed off.) There is no sign yet that QAAHE will propose such a course, but CUCD thinks it appropriate to alert departments to the issue ...' [One may add there are also likely to be related problems at Master's level.]
Apart from these special items [(1)-(3) above], CUCD has continued with its normal business of monitoring developments, both in the UK (e.g. in the wake of the 1996 RAE), and abroad, with limited attempts at intervention where these seemed likely to be helpful. There have been major retrenchments in the provision of Classical subjects at universities especially in Australia, South Africa, and Canada. Geoff Eatough's statistics (up until 1997: figures for the present year were not available at the time of writing of this Report) show no sign of contraction of student demand for Classical subjects in the UK. But clearly there is no room for complacency; to the pressures on us from regulatory bodies (which also in some cases offer a positive opportunity for further articulation of what we do, and want to do) may be added the problems of the continuing reorganization, and contraction, of school examination syllabuses. Here it will be useful for CUCD to increase its level of communication with other Classical organizations, like JACT and the CA, who are themselves taking steps to work more closely together.
University of Durham
The Standing Committee of the Council of University Classical Departments wishes to respond, on behalf of Council, to the questions raised in §§25/62 and 56/68 of RAE 1/98 ('RAE 2001: key decisions and issues for further consultation').
1. Publication of Material on the Internet
Our response is mixed, but on balance negative. While (a) it might be useful for the purposes of planning to have more detailed and systematic knowledge of the basis on which the ratings were assigned, (b) the (necessary?) exclusion of RA5 would mean that HEIs remained ignorant of what will apparently continue to be one of the main factors contributing to any given rating; (c) publication would be likely to increase the competitive aspect of the whole process, so also increasing the danger e.g. of the poaching of productive researchers, and of the unhelpful mimicking of successful submissions which might not provide the best models for other institutions or units.
2. Should a minimum proportion of staff be returned for the achievement of the highest ratings?
If there is a case for proposing a minimum proportion for the achievement of the highest ratings (presumably 5 and 5*?), our view is that the same argument also applies in the case of other ratings. If it matters that 'a unit should not be able to present itself as a 5 or a 5* unit when only a relatively small proportion of staff had been assessed as such' (§54), it is not clear why it should not also matter that a unit should be able to present itself as a 4, 3a, 3b or 2 unit under the same circumstances. Thus we return a negative response to the question as it stands, that is, if the question relates exclusively to 'the highest ratings'.
CUCD Bulletin 27 (1998)
© Council of University Classical Departments 1998