CLASSICS AT BRITISH UNIVERSITIES,
2000-01: STATISTICS

Geoffrey Eatough

In general it can be said that there are hints of a slight decline in the figures for Classics students this year, but it is not easy to evaluate. Table B is perhaps the place to start. The numbers in Single Honours Classics, Greek and Latin are downwards. Although the line of descent is not straight - there was, for example, a dip in 1996, then a sharp recovery, followed by decline again - the figure for this year seems to indicate a new level. It is a 6.2% decline on the previous year. For those curious to know the position before 1991, we claimed to have 1565 students in this category in 1979, 1537 in 1984, 1187 in 1986, rising to 1327 in 1987, declining once more, then rising to 1345 in 1994. We have not been as low as 1109. There is an even sharper drop in the Joint Honours figure, a 26% decline on head count, almost 19% on the FTE figure. (FTE means Full Time Equivalent student, e.g. two students shared equally with other departments equal one FTE student). We have however been as low as, and even lower than, these figures in 1984 and 1987.

In Single Honours Classical Studies, Ancient History and Archaeology there has been significant decline on 1999, but the figures are better than 1998, especially when one looks at the FTE figure. There is a most peculiar pattern to these figures, with 1994, 1997 and 1999, the fat years, being perhaps in need of explanation. In Joint Honours the head-count figure shows a nice rise but the FTE figure is slightly down.

I do not think as yet there is cause for concern, but we need to be vigilant, and we also need to take the collection of these statistics seriously. Two institutions did not return their statistics this year. One of these has been of little importance, given its staff and student numbers, but it shows signs of major expansion, and given some of the principles driving the Government's policy towards higher education it could become a significant institution. The irritation here is that only recently we used our knowledge to lend them a helping hand. The other one is what we might call a middle order institution. I have in each case simply had to include last year's figures. No great damage will have been done, but for these statistics to retain credibility we cannot afford to carry more than one or two passengers. We should also remember that some of the members returning their institution's figures put in an enormous amount of effort, and failure to return forms starts to negate this effort.

I suspect that many students are not being returned in the general category of OTHER. The occasional correspondent is honest enough to confess the impossibility, that is the difficulty, of the task. He/she could argue that students from other departments taking courses in Classics departments will be offset by students in Classics taking courses outside their department. Students from other departments are however fundamental to the existence of some Classics departments, and the modular system adopted by many institutions encourages movement. Consistency in the returns would be desirable. I suspect that fatigue in form filling accounts for the spectacular drop maintained this year in the figure for All students in Classics departments (second column Table A).

A surprisingly large number of institutions do not seem to teach Beginners Greek or Beginners Latin. If this is true, there are some intriguing implications.

There is a drop in the number of first year honours students, but this year's figures are in line with those for 1998 and immediately previous years. The 1999 figure seems to be the anomaly.

There has been a remarkable rise in staff numbers, which in turn has depressed the student/staff ratio. Staff numbers are a grey area with large numbers doing part-time teaching. If you want to demonstrate the research status of your department perhaps you declare these figures; if on the other hand you want to prove your economic efficiency you might conceal them. There seems to have been an epidemic of declaration, or we have suddenly been favoured.

The final area of interest is postgraduate work (last two columns of Table C). There seems to have been a sharp drop in research degrees and a near doubling of Taught Masters. Postgraduate figures in the past have caused trouble, as institutions have wanted to register students who were out of time but hanging around, no doubt causing work. They are also difficult to determine. I had to think very hard before deciding who was in and who was out in my own institution. Allowing for the one or two fanciful interpretations among the correspondents, it seems that we may have a trend. Next year could tell. The abolition of maintenance grants and free tuition might have encouraged a larger proportion of students to take vocational courses. If so we are at the moment surviving reasonably well. The restoration of grants in whatever amounts, and the abolition of tuition fees, could lead to a modest increase in the number of students who, free of the burden of large debts, would be willing to undertake a taught MA in some field of Classics.

I complained last year to the CUCD committee about the problems I had been having in collecting the last half dozen or so sets of statistics. I felt a little foolish when the rest of the committee suggested that the obvious way to surmount this problem was to put the form on the web. It had not occurred to me. I think the new system works quite well and we have Nick Lowe to thank for making it available. It will be clear however from this account that, whatever the technology, human nature remains the same; some of you may take comfort from that, but perhaps not my successor, Graham Shipley.

Finally I should thank Alan Rogers who was until recently head of our computer section in Lampeter. Fifteen years or so ago he invented the programme that I have used during this period. He is now a computer consultant, but was happy to stand by me as always when the time came to run off the figures, for which we should all be grateful. During this period my wife Anne double checked the figures. Any omissions therefore rest with the originators of these figures.

Geoffrey Eatough

University of Wales, Lampeter


CUCD Bulletin 30 (2001)
© Council of University Classical Departments 2001

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