CUCD statistics 1997-8


Geoffrey Eatough

This year it is a pleasure to welcome the Open University on board the statistical train, destination unclear. Twenty years ago I became OU tutor for the whole of Wales, outside the south eastern counties, for both the Greek and Roman Civilisation units. It was a heavy burden to add to the enormous teaching and administrative loads that I already had in my own college, but the decision to take on this task was one of the most important that I ever made. I learned that there were different ways of teaching Classics and that there was a body of potential classics students other than those that could be found in dwindling numbers in the schools, that nearly all of these OU students were eager to learn, and many of them outstandingly good. Having lived through a decade and a half of crisis since graduating, I found it good for my morale to be involved with this new kind of student. Some of the lessons that I learned with the OU I took back to my college which in turn benefitted. I do not pretend to know what is happening in the OU at the moment. I do know that the permanent staff within what we might think of as the Classics department has expanded enormously, and that their research output is receiving proper recognition. They are a university department just like those with which we are familiar, and yet, happily, of course, they are not.

My intention was to make this year a new start, to merge the OU statistics into those of the other universities, and to accept that from now onwards the figures would be a little different, obviously larger, but there would be a discernible continuity. However the OU figures are of what we might call a different order, as is clear from Table A where I have in the end been forced to give the figures excluding OU, and then including OU. I say 'forced' because one has to look at the origin and reasons for the collecting of these statistics. This goes back to the crisis of the 1960s and the collapse of traditional classics when CUCD needed to know what was going on in the various institutions, and also to be able to generate its own statistics, which would give a more correct picture than the cruder figures emanating from official agencies. Of particular concern was the survival of Latin and Greek, and therefore the work which now had to be done in universities to teach Latin and Greek ab initio ; hence correspondents even now are requested to submit separate entries for Beginners Latin and Greek. There was the sense that Classics departments were under fire and that they needed ammunition to be able to defend themselves. This is unfortunately still the case, and it may also be the case in the OU. My guess is however that the OU and the traditional universities will be looked at in different ways by officialdom, and that when the questions are asked about the state of Classics in the country, i.e. how many people are studying the subject, the enquirers will not be thinking of the OU when they put in their question. I have therefore given the two sets of figures in Table A.

The OU does not submit figures under Honours students, merely under 'Other', which then turn up in the column 'All students in Classics departments'. The OU figures can be appreciated in Table C, and I say 'appreciated' rather than 'detected' since institutions are entitled to confidentiality. However the sheer size of the OU figures blows their cover. Even the most innumerate might demand explanation of the large increase in CS (Classical Studies) in the 'Other' table for 1997 as well as for Beginners Greek and NC (so-called Non-Classical, i.e. Classics taught to non-Classicists). I find the Greek particularly interesting, since the OU is apparently teaching more that twice the number of Beginners Greek students than the rest of the Classics departments in the country put together. This raises some astonishing questions if the figures from the other universities are reliable. The world may be standing on its head and we do not realise it. It should also make those who try and envisage how Classical subjects may be taught in ten years time think, since traditional universities too are becoming involved in teaching at a distance.

I shall now look at the figures excluding OU. The position remains healthy though we should bear in mind that there may be large changes in next year's statistics because of the introduction of tuition fees, or the year afterwards when potential students have had time to think of the enormity of tuition fees. The number of 'All Honours students' has risen by 115 and more importantly the FTE (Full-time equivalent) has risen by 194.1. The number of first year honours students has declined by a trivial amount, but the FTE has gone up by a significant amount. The overall staff/student ratio has risen considerably from 14.0 to 14.9 which makes last year's figure look like a statistical aberration, not my statistics of course, but their statistics, that is my correspondents'. If 1993 is also an aberration, a pattern can be detected of the kind one should expect. One has to say once again that there are vastly different staff/student ratios among the various departments to the extent that one could ask whether the term 'university teacher' is a meaningful lable.

In Table B one can see that there are 78 more students returned as Single Honours Classics Greek and Latin than in 1996, but 36 fewer students in the Joint Honours category. If one adds the FTE figures in both categories together for each year there is seemingly a rise of 48.5. The significant gains are once more however in Single Honours Classical Studies, Ancient History and Archaeology, despite the fact that the returns for Archaeology continue to collapse. Table C shows that the upward trend in SH Classical Studies and SH Ancient History is relentless, though in JH Classical Studies there has been a falling back. The figures in Other must be viewed with suspicion. I think some correspondents have great difficulty in locating students in these categories, even supposing that they know the nature of the question being asked. One correspondent simply forgot to fill in this section. Since the section that had been filled was six months overdue, and this was the third or fourth time of asking, I had to move on without the figures. I think in other words that there is an underestimate in this area, but not serious since FTEs here are tiny.

I find it much more interesting to compare the 1997 figures with those of 1988 and ask whether we are not living in a post-Barron era. I have no wish to turn up old documents having reached the stage of life when only the future is interesting, but I was there, and some memories linger. It was believed that there were too many departments for the students who would be coming through, who were envisaged as students coming from schools. There was a need for departments to be of a critical size so that they could teach the correct span of subjects and generate research by scholar speaking to scholar within his locality. Classics departments would be best positioned if they could be in large universities which would have the resources to support them, since we were about to enter a bleak economic age when money would be in short supply. There would be also be economies of scale with larger departments.

The rise in the staff/student ratio (Table A) shows the economies of scale, though the economies have been harsher in some institutions than others. The SH Classics, Greek and Latin figures, Table B, show through their stability the limited market for student in this traditional area. A glance however at the figures for All Honours students in Classics departments show that the future did not behave as expected. There has been a growth of about 80% in the FTE figure. The cause of this has been the phenomenal expansion in Classical Studies and Ancient History which in JH have more than doubled and in SH have apparently nearly tripled and no doubt have tripled but this is masked by the inconsistencies in Archaeological returns. It would be valuable to know how many of these students came straight out of the schools, how many came out of the schools with a grade in a Classical subject, or how many were mature students. All three firsts in my own department this year were mature students, something we have come almost to expect, one of them a young woman who took three years off from a career nursing to take an almost flawless first in Ancient History.

Last year I mentioned that three departments which had managed to keep giving us statistics had finally gone out of business. I should mention this year that three departments which in 1988 were expected to go out of business survived by different strategems. I have a vivid memory of the head of one of those departments pleading to be given breathing space so that he could save his department. He did and it flourishes, although it can be classified among the smaller departments. Another which was reduced to one teacher, and now doubt they thought they were doing well, when the department had two, which is where even the knowledgable think it still rests, has in fact 3.5 staff and can continue to rise. The third is assuming large proportions and it seems to me is destined to become a major player, to borrow jargon from another field.

We have become acutely aware that there is a scattering of people teaching some Classics in a number of institutions from which we do not take statistics. We have decided to track them down; we have their addresses or hope to acquire them, and perhaps you can help, if you think there could be someone lurking unnoticed. Sometime in the early '80s while still tutoring with the OU I was asked to give a very brief talk in Cardiff to a gathering of academics and technical experts from BT on my experiences of long distance teaching by telephone, using equipment by which one could conduct a seminar with groups in various centres in Wales at the same time. At this meeting we were introduced to video-conferencing equipment which had just been developed and has become commonplace. At the time Classics departments were being relocated, not always with happy consequences, the Internet was being developed which in theory at least has made a nonesense of some assumptions about a critical scholarly mass in a particular locality. One can have more to say, because of shared interests, to someone in Puget Sound than to someone on your own corridor, and now you can write to them and read the instant reply.

It seems that the number of Postgraduates, presumably those doing research degrees has dropped by 71, and the number of those doing Taught Masters has risen by 33. This is an area which some expect to be badly affected by the introduction of tuition fees at undergraduate level, since students will be so heavily in debt that they will not be able to contemplate self-financed masters. We shall have to wait three years to see if this is true. There is also an assumption, almost a desire in some parts of the press, that fees will mean students opt for vocational degrees. Casual conversations with American academics suggest that there might be some truth in this. The introduction of fees could mean that more students will choose to study at a local university, in which case there might be some redistribution of power, that is student numbers, among existing Classics departments. Competition among departments will lead to innovation and in some cases co-operation with adjacent departments leading to untraditional degrees. But the future must belong to some committee; my concern with statistics, an historical activity.

Geoffrey Eatough

University of Wales, Lampeter

CUCD Bulletin 27 (1998)
© Council of University Classical Departments 1998

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