What has certainly emerged, once more, is that CUCD as currently structured is not well-placed - either structurally or financially - to deal with the sheer quantity of business that, in common with other subject associations, it is now expected to handle. Although both the Funding Councils and the QAA appear regularly either to forget to contact us or to lose our address, both officially recognize the importance of consulting with subject associations, and fitfully use us as a conduit into particular subject-areas. In this new environment the old arrangements, with a single meeting of Council every year, and three meetings of Standing Committee, are just not adequate, insofar as - despite the benefits of e-mail - the Chair ends up having more of a say (or at any rate this Chair feels that he has ended up having more of a say) than seems healthy in what is meant to be a representative organisation. Standing Committee has discussed the issues, and will return to them. We probably need more meetings of Standing Committee (which would require a further significant rise in subscriptions), if not of Council; we probably also need a more formal process of election to Standing Committee, and to the offices of the association; and I think a case could well be made out for working groups to handle particular issues.
I may begin the main part of my report with two items mentioned in the Postscript of the report for 1997-8 (Bulletin 27, 1998, 16-17).
'CUCD proposes to respond only to a very limited number of the questions in the consultation document, observing that the time allowed for consultation has proved far from sufficient for proper and systematic discussion of the issues by those directly concerned with them. Institutions may be able to respond quickly; subject associations, whose members are widely scattered, find it rather more difficult to do so, even with the benefits of electronic communication.
'QA.5 We are in principle in favour of support for innovation and the spread of best practice in teaching and learning, but we see considerable difficulties in establishing such support in the case of multidisciplinary areas like our own. Insofar as different disciplines may involve differing strategies, they might need to draw on expertise developed in widely different areas. Thus while on grounds of economy one might prefer unitary Subject centres, in practice a distributed system (if of a rather different kind from the one described) might have to be devloped for such subjects.
'QA.10 The grouping of 'classical languages' with ancient history, history and archaeology in Centre 16 makes a kind of sense if 'classical languages' means 'Classics'; if it means what it says, 'classical languages' ought presumably to be with 'languages', and then the remaining areas within Classics, apart from ancient history and classical archaeology, would be unaccounted for, unless they were taken as subsumed under related non-Classical disciplines. As the response to QA.5 indicates, Classics cannot easily be accommodated within any single coherent grouping, just because of its multidisciplinary nature. A centre which attempted to develop the strategies necessary for each of the constituent disciplines of Classics would itself be extraordinarily diverse; one ancient ('historical') subject is not made akin to another just be virtue of being ancient. (Philosophy appears to be one subject altogether missing from the list: here too Classics has an interest, insofar as it includes the study of ancient philosophy.)
'QD.2 We raise here, once more, the inadequate time allowed for consultation.'
Further business for CUCD then came thick and fast:
Malcolm Schofield, David Braund, Christopher Carey, Philip de Souza, Ken Dowden, Chris Emlyn-Jones, Alan Lloyd, Charles Martindale, Elizabeth Moignard, Robin Osborne, Jerry Paterson, Tessa Rajak, Charlotte Roueché, Bob Sharples, and Chris Tuplin, with (representing Modern Greek) Elizabeth Jeffreys and (representing Byzantine Studies) Margaret Mullett (Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies were included with Classics and Ancient History at the request of the QAA: both subjects initially questioned the idea, but decided to go along with it).
Malcolm Schofield has chaired the Group, with Gillian King acting as volunteer Secretary. We were probably the first subject-area to set up its benchmarking group, for which we earned the warm thanks of the QAA at the time. The result is that Standing Committee had a draft of our benchmarking statement before it at its October meeting, whereas I gather that e.g. the Philosophy benchmarking group was due to have its first meeting only at the end of September. Our promptness is not a sign of weakness, but rather of a desire to get and keep control of the process, so far as is humanly possible. It remains to be seen whether the group have actually been given a task which is conceptually coherent (and at the time of writing the QAA in general appears to be in some disarray in its relationship with the Funding Councils). Standing Committee was broadly in favour of the draft statement, evidently finding it at any rate coherent in itself; Malcolm Schofield will introduce it to Council. He and the other members of the group, and Gillian King, deserve a considerable vote of thanks for taking this job on and doing it with such evident effect and efficiency. We must now wait to see how the QAA and the Funding Councils receive it, and how it may be used in the promised new TQA regime.
However at a fairly early stage both we and the archaeologists began to part company with HUDG, not least because HUDG appeared to us to be proposing a heavily management-orientated Centre, remote from any centres of recognized expertise in learning and teaching matters. We joined forces with History 2000, based in Nottingham and Bath, and ultimately supported a proposal for a distributed Centre based on these two universities, with archaeology (in the persons of Lin Foxhall, David Mattingly, and others) located in Leicester and Classics (in the person of Lorna Hardwick) located at the Open University. The main strength of this proposal, we thought, was that it was built around people who were in fact already working in the development of learning and teaching.
An enormous amount of work was put into this proposal, especially by Lorna and Lin. In the event, the Funding Councils agreed that it should go forward into the second and final stage of the bidding process, along with a separate bid from Glasgow (which had its archaeology element based in Reading, and so far as I know no detailed provision for Classics and Ancient History); a third bid, from HUDG - so I am told - was rejected. At the same time, the Councils (in fact mainly SHEFCE, who are running this particular show) made it clear privately that they preferred the Glasgow bid, mainly because it involved a securer management structure - and clearly in general they had turned their backs on the idea of a distributed Centre. However, in the second stage (which came to an end on 30.9.99) Glasgow decided to try to amalgamate its bid with ours, largely because they needed the approval of subject associations. After much hard work, on the Classics side all done by Lorna, a new consolidated bid has gone in. If this is accepted, and so far as we know it will be the only bid, the new 'History' Centre will be based in Glasgow, but the Subject Director for Classics and Ancient History will be Lorna, in the Open University, with archaeology in Leicester. I should like to express my special thanks to Lorna for her part in what has been a pretty messy affair - and also to the archaeologists (especially Clive Gamble in Southampton) who have stuck with us throughout. I fervently hope that the bid will be accepted: based where she is, Lorna will have access to all sorts of relevant resources; there should also be funding to employ the equivalent of a whole person to run an office (to be provided by the OU) and to begin the sorts of initiatives that we think necessary. There will be some continuing input into the Centre from subject associations; so far we have identified problems of limited language teaching as a priority.
For the record, I append the text of the letters which I wrote in support (i) of the first-stage bid (based on Nottingham/Bath/Leicester/OU) and (ii) of the second-stage bid.
'Our support is based on a number of factors. (1) The bid proposes a scheme for a distributed Centre which provides for a management and staffing structure, and a division of resources, appropriate to the perceived needs of our subject area. It concentrates resources on staff who would be able to address those needs directly, with a relatively small amount devoted to overall management within the distributed Centre. This, rather than e.g. a top-heavy model concentrating resources on an expensive Director and single staff-members covering each subject, appears to us the most obviously cost-effective arrangement, not least because of the great diversity of the area labelled as 'Classics' (see below). A strong management committee for the Centre as a whole, drawn from the three subject associations, would at the same time provide for tight control of general policy and administration. (2) We began negotiating with Leicester (covering Archaeology) and the Open University (Classics and Ancient History) on the basis that these two institutions already contained individuals and groups with a proven track record in the Learning and Teaching area relevant to the two subjects, which are in any case in some respects closely linked. Indeed, the involvement of the Open University was originally at the suggestion of CUCD, precisely because it is in the Open University that the most systematic work of the relevant sort, for Classics and Ancient History, is currently being carried out. The coupling of the Open University with Leicester, a location which - as we understand it - has the support of the archaeologists, then looked obviously attractive, not only because of the geographical proximity of the two institutions, but because there is strong representation from both Ancient History and Classical Archaeology in Leicester.
'We have throughout remained in close contact both with the main Archaeology subject association (SCUPHA), and with the main History subject association (HUDG). It is still unclear to us exactly what scheme HUDG will propose, although they have assured us that they are entirely in favour of a distributed Centre, and are happy to have the Archaeology and Classics and Ancient History arms of such a Centre based in Leicester and the Open University. In principle, then, we should be open to involvement in any bid that may emerge from HUDG. However our latest information suggests that they are likely to propose a division of resources that would not obviously permit the type of arrangement we have negotiated with Leicester and the Open University, insofar as it would retain too large a proportion of available resources for History itself. It is our view that the needs of subject areas in terms of the dissemination of good practice and the development of learning and teaching practice do not increase in proportion e.g. to the number of those teaching in a particular area, but rather in proportion to the diversity and complexity of subject areas. (In relation to Classics and Ancient History, it is worth noting that for the next TQA round, the subject has been divided into thirteen broad sub-areas.) We are also concerned that the whole Centre, as well as its distributed arms, should be based firmly in existing expertise in the development of learning and teaching: see (1) above. Our support for any overall bid must be conditional both on this, and on what we believe to be the proper distribution of funding between the three subject areas, on which the fulfilment of the first condition in fact partly depends.
'I should add that we have also been in communication with CTICH in Glasgow, who have recently indicated that an institutional bid either for the whole Centre, or for the History part of a distributed Centre, might be forthcoming from the University of Glasgow. Were the first to materialise, notwithstanding that we have the greatest respect for our Classical colleagues in that institution, we have no confidence, or evidence, that Glasgow could in general offer our subject area what is offered by the Leicester/Open element of the present bid.'
The contents of this letter were endorsed by the Standing Committee of the Council of University Classical Departments at a meeting on 22 May 1999.
'I should like to take this opportunity of thanking you and your colleagues [sc. in Glasgow] for the splendidly positive way in which negotiations in the whole matter have been conducted over the last few weeks. This by itself may well make the penultimate sentence in the preceding paragraph look unnecessarily negative; but in a formal letter even the obvious probably needs stating.'
'The Standing Committee of the Council of University Classical Departments met last Saturday (23 January 1999), with the AHRB as one of the items on the agenda.
'First, I should like to reiterate our thanks for your generosity in giving up your time, at such short notice, to address our Council last November. Your presentation was both illuminating and reassuring, as was your subsequent letter to Richard Janko - which you kindly copied to me, and which formed part of the background to our agenda item last Saturday.
'In fact, our Panel members are keeping us abreast of developments, and I think I may broadly say that we are thus far happy enough with the way things are proceeding. We particularly welcome the series of AHRB seminars, which will no doubt provide an occasion to raise specific issues.
'I thought it might, nevertheless, be helpful just to mention two points which, for the moment, remain matters of concern to us. 1. While it is reassuring that funding for Arts and Humanities will be separately ring-fenced, it is not yet clear what kinds of criteria will be used to divide up the humanities' share of the cake. Maybe these have not yet been finally decided; and perhaps there should be no cause for concern, given all the indications that the new structures will be designed for fairness and transparency. However it is not altogether easy to see how fairness might be translated into practice: thus for example any quantitative measure, or so it seems to us, would need to take into account not just (e.g.) the number of research-active staff who were working in a particular area, but the proportion of staff in a particular area who were research-active, numbers of research students, and in general the level and quality of research activity in that area. 2. Your general letter of 25 November asks for nominations for the Board and for the panels from 'institutions, learned societies and professional associations'. We are anxious that the balance in any process of consultation should be tilted towards the 'subject domains' themselves, that is, towards learned societies and professional associations; institutions, after all, are competitors for research funding, while societies and associations (we hope) act out of concern for their subject itself. But perhaps this point is too obvious to be worth making.'
After consulting member departments, I sent the following response to the consultation paper:
'I write to give you the response of the Council of University Classical Departments - the subject association for Classics and Ancient History at HE level - to this consultation paper. (May I use this opportunity to ask once again that the change in the chairmanship of CUCD, from Professor Richardson in Edinburgh to myself, which occurred two and a half years ago, be recorded properly in the QAA's mailing list?)
'We prefer to respond discursively rather than completing your 'pro forma sheet', because our concerns tend to cut across many of the issues on which the Agency requests a response.
'Our chief concerns relate to taught MA programmes. The old Humanities Research Board of the British Academy, over the last few years of its existence, instituted a regime under which students going on (or hoping to go on) to HRB-funded research would normally be expected to complete a taught MA first. This was a major factor in the shaping of the new generation of MA programmes: they were to be in the first instance programmes of preparation for research, and usually contained specific elements/modules of training in research methods and resorces. This was the HRB's rationale for funding students on such courses - as it is now for its successor body, the Arts and Humanities Research Board. Many students of course take taught MA courses in the humanities without going on to research; nevertheless it is the requirements of intending research students that have tended to take priority.
'All of this is familiar enough, and analogous developments will have occurred in other areas. The question then must be how well the conception of taught MA programmes as preparation for research fits with the conception of progression, and particularly of a hierarchy of levels, which informs the present consultation paper. It is easy enough to imagine subject-areas in which the fit might be good, or at least passable. However, in the broad area described as 'classics' (roughly what the QAA and HEFCE continue to call 'Classical Languages', with Ancient History), the fit is likely to vary only between the passable and the poor.
'One of the underlying reasons for this is the very wide range of different sub-areas within 'classics' (languages, literature, history, philosophy, archaeology, art history, epigraphy, and so on), which has tended to give rise to an equally wide range of options within undergraduate programmes, and indeed to significant differences of balance between programmes. The consequence is that graduates in classical subjects will often still need to develop the full range and extent of specialist knowledge and skills required for independent research in particular fields. In one way there is nothing new about this. Many of us in the old days will just have got on in the early days of our doctoral research to make up any lost ground (e.g. by learning German, how to read inscriptions, or the Greek dialects). Now, however, this is specifically - and quite properly - identified as 'research preparation', and largely separated from research proper. At the same time the diversification and (often) increasing specialization of undergraduate programmes, together with the decline of provision for the teaching of the ancient languages in schools, have meant that even the best and brightest students, the ones who will be winning AHRB postgraduate awards, will have more skills and experience in some aspects of the field but more ground to make up in others. They are likely, in particular, to have had considerably less exposure than they require to Greek and/or Latin.
'Our problem with the consultation paper is that it appears to disallow, or not obviously to allow, the kind of programme that the set of circumstances just described plainly requires: that is, a programme that combines progression with what in the terms of the paper might count as 'conversion' - and will, perhaps in the majority of cases, include a considerable body of material, the size of which is not independently specifiable, that could in principle be studied (and sometimes will have been studied) at undergraduate level. One of the glosses to Principle XIV, 'Use of a masters title for a conversion programme would only be appropriate where outcomes have been achieved at a postgraduate level', initially seems to offer some leeway here. But that is then put in doubt by the reference back to Principle I, ' ... may include no more than a defined maximum level of credit at undergraduate honours level'. Again, it is not quite clear, here or elsewhere in the paper, exactly how postgraduate and undergraduate elements are meant to be distinguished; but the very absence of clarity on this point (on which clarity is admittedly difficult to achieve, at least in the humanities) entails that we can build little that is positive upon it.
'The core of the matter is that many departments/schools/faculties have developed extremely flexible systems precisely in order to cater for what is now almost always a highly diverse intake to postgraduate study. This diversity is increased further by the often considerable influx of students from other European countries (and elsewhere), who will frequently have been brought up in an academic culture quite different from our own. Most of us rely in such situations on a heavy, and individually tailored, tutorial input, which once again may have little to do with the language of 'levels' - but has everything to do with progression in the sense defined or implied by the AHRB. (Here too one might hope to get by through stressing the postgraduate nature of the 'outcomes'; once again this road appears to be blocked, or made difficult, by Principle I, with its corollaries.)
'In short, the consultation paper seems to us to propose another change of culture which is not in the interests of our students, or of the subject. It is of course perfectly possible for departments to fudge, or obscure, the issues, e.g. by teaching the same material to undergraduates and postgraduates separately; but if much of the material being taught is in fact identical (which looks as if it is the fundamental criterion here, despite the unclarity of the paper on the issue: see above), this not only looks uneconomical, but a poor way to usher in a new era of transparency and fuller articulation of what we do and mean to do. The full logical consequences of the proposals in the consultation paper are, first, that we would be prevented from doing an essential part of what we, as practitioners in the area, see as not only perfectly legitimate and possible, but necessary for students and subject (i.e., where appropriate, to combine Dearing levels H5 and H6); that many taught MA programmes would have to redesigned from the ground up, in order fully to meet the new criteria, but at the cost of not meeting those based on the requirements of research preparation; and that therefore the AHRB would need seriously to consider whether it should be funding students on taught MA programmes at all.
'Different departments and individuals in our subject-area have different perspectives on these issues, some seeing them as very serious, others as less so, but chiefly in proportion to the degree to which they have already, post-Harris, anticipated the need to observe what they think is the letter of Principle XX. We are apparently being asked to face in two directions at once: by the QAA and the requirement for standardization on the one hand, and by the AHRB and the requirements of research on the other. We wonder about the extent to which the HRB/AHRB (or the research councils) were consulted before the consultation paper was drawn up. More urgently, we would welcome discussion with the QAA about the way forward. It would be at the least odd if MA programmes were to be rendered incapable of fulfilling one of their chief functions for the sake of appearing to meet the concerns of some stakeholders - for after all, as the same stakeholders know perfectly well, differences of quality will continue to exist between programmes even if they are labelled and described in the same way, in proportion to the quality of the environment in which they are delivered.
'The only other issue we wish directly to address is the recommendation under Principle XIX, that in order to avoid the award of qualifications 'as compensation for failure or by default', work would have to be resubmitted for reassessment at a lower level. While there is some disquiet about the about 'the principle of awarding the same degree for an unsuccessful attempt [e.g.] at a PhD and for a successful submission by a candidate not aiming at a PhD in the first place', our near-unanimous view (to the extent that we have been able to consult our members) is that such resubmission would normally be wasteful and serve no obvious purpose. It appears to be normal practice for examiners to consider separately, when a candidate fails to match up to the criteria for one degree, whether he or she matches up to those for another - and to describe the award of a lesser degree under such circumstances as 'compensation for failure or by default' would in our view be to misdescribe it. If the candidate meets the criteria for the award of a degree, that he or she may have failed to meet the criteria for another ceases from that point of view to be relevant.'
Note: I subsequently raised the major issues contained in this letter at an AHRB symposium in London, and followed up with a letter to Michael Jubb; both he and Paul Langford agreed that these issues were of considerable concern to the AHRB, which at least by implication had a different agenda for taught Masters programmes from the QAA.
Subsequent to the meeting there was correspondence between Charles Martindale, Peter Wiseman, and myself with Dr Pilsbury, the intention of which was to follow up some of the points that had been made (my own letters concerned specifically the treatment by RAE panels of journal editorships). It cannot be said that the responses were encouraging, insofar as they tended once more to suggest that everything in the garden was lovely. If it is, some of us continue to miss the loveliness. [The most illuminating part of the correspondence was that between Peter Wiseman and Dr Pilsbury. The exchange of letters is included in this issue, with Peter's agreement.]
The comments of the Council of University Classical Departments in response to RAE 4/99 are as follows.
Acting as a reader for publishers (or a referee for journals) seems less of an achievement than the award of a visiting fellowship. Possession of an FBA may also not be a good guide to achievement within the census period. We felt in particular that recognition from outside the UK ought to be regarded an important indication of esteem.
Matters that are currently in hand, or need to be in hand:
Many of the items above will involve continuing attention and development over the next year(s). Among the most immediately pressing additional matters for action are:
It remains for me finally to offer my warm thanks to my fellow-officers, and to the other members of Standing Committee, for their help and support over the last three years. It has been an interesting and busy period - but I have no doubt that the next three years will be no less interesting, or less busy.
University of Durham
17 October 1999
CUCD Bulletin 28 (1999)
© Council of University Classical Departments 1999