CLASSICS AT BRITISH UNIVERSITIES,
1998-99: STATISTICS

Geoffrey Eatough

Despite appearances there is little change from last year in the number of honours students in Classics departments, the first column in Table A. The actual number of people being counted as honours students has declined, back towards the 1995 figure of 5606, but the FTE (Fulltime Equivalent Student) figure, the figure in brackets, on which departmental finances should be based is only 2.7% lower. Since one department has found it impossible to locate their Ancient History students this year one can indeed say there is little change. For the category 'All students in Classics departments' which includes the large category 'Other' the number of students has increased though the FTE value has dropped from 6252.1 to 6118.6. This is a drop of 2.1%, but most certainly not even that, since under the new modular systems some departments are finding it difficult to keep track of students doing modules in their department. One major department was eventually given a dispensation from providing figures in that category; the plaintive demonstrating that the study of the classical arts of persuasion and supplication still has a practical value. The introduction of the Open University (OU) figures I explained in the last bulletin. The OU figures are very much the same as those of last year and do not upset the stability of this year's global figures. The staff/student ratio is also much the same, though this figure has become a little unreal with the universal use of teaching assistants. It is however some kind of indicator.

In Table B the honours students are divided into the major categories of Classics, Greek and Latin (CGL) and Classical Studies, Ancient History and Archaeology (CSAHA) both Single Honours (SH) and Joint Honours (JH). A decade ago it would have been easier than now to think of CGL as the linguistic courses, and CSAHA as the non-linguistic courses. One can however, depending on one's locality, take Classics degrees which have large elements of non-linguistic material, or Classical Studies degrees which are predominantly linguistic. The categories are far from watertight. Let us suppose that the use of these categories represent the individual department's perception of its mission rather than the uncertainties of the member of staff delegated with the task of compiling the statistics. CGL(SH) on a head count remains remarkably close to last year's figure though the FTE figure has risen and there are significant rises in both head count and FTE in JH. A matter of concern might be CSAHA (SH) where there is a drop of 9.3% on head count and 6.1% on FTE. The JH figure for students taking CSAHA subjects is almost the same but again the FTE figure is lower, by 6.2%.

Table C enables us to analyse these figures. There is a significant drop in AH(JH) both in number of students 16.9% and FTE 23.5%, but a rise in CS(JH) of 18.1% and 16.8% respectively. There is a drop in AH(SH), 13.3% and 6.1%; the bigger drop however is in CS(SH), 15.3% and 11.4%. My guess is that in most universities CS has a larger linguistic element than AH. The drop in CS (SH) may be directly compensated by the large increases in G (SH) and L (SH) and C (JH) and G (JH), but also by CS (OTHER) 11.5% and 22.9% which again may be evidence of the difficulties of categorising, or simply a change of statistician in three or four universities. My impression is that new statisticians are rarely inducted into the arcana of their department by their predecessors. There have been large increases in Archaeology SH and JH, but if Ancient History is difficult to control the figures which pass as those of Classical Archaeology seem almost uncontrollable.

The figure for postgraduates seems to be absurdly inflated, and in general volatile, though I was surprised to discover how many postgraduates there were in my own department. There has always been scope for fantasy in returning postgraduate figures. The Taught MA figures must be more solidly based, since departments will have regular contact with students on this kind of course. They show an encouraging and interesting trend.

The winds of change can be heard, and felt. There are many factors, some of which I mentioned in the previous bulletin. The wish of government that a large number of students should study at their local university has been reflected in the innocent remarks of two 'returning officers' from what can be described as city universities, one of which was recently dispersed within its own university, and the other almost liquidated. Both commented on the upsurge of students for the coming year which will be seen in next year's statistics. To be urban is however not necessarily to benefit since even large and famous cities can be on the fringe of Classical Britain.

In Wales devolution will be a major and immediate influence. The universities there face a number of crises which will have to be resolved quickly, the issues are astonishingly complex, and only in part based on the rifts in the Welsh political scenery. The Assembly will move quickly, the debates of which we will be given glimpses on television may provide compulsive theatre. Wales remains an intimate face to face society, names will be named, if only of institutions.

There are rumours of amalgamations elsewhere as departments face up to the next Research Assessment Exercise, trying to reconcile teaching, administration and research. And there appears to be a ceaseless movement of staff. Applying for jobs, even being interviewed, has for some become a way of life.

Departments in my own university are increasingly embracing distance teaching. Someone spoke enthusiastically of a university in Denmark which had 35,000 students with whom it communicated at a distance, but admitted that it was run somewhat like a call centre with a minimum of staff. Such institutions will run on staff/student ratios greater than 1:140. On such a system one university with a staff of about 35 could teach all the Classics students in Britain. The use of information technology may be the issue which should most concern us.

I return to what in a different guise is starting point of this coda. The biggest problem for many Classics departments in the very immediate future will be the relentless creation of new universities, the tilt towards vocational education and the need to compete in a market where the customers are impecunious students who need to recoup their losses. It will soon be difficult to remember when education was once not perceived as a marketplace.

Geoffrey Eatough

University of Wales, Lampeter


CUCD Bulletin 28 (1999)
© Council of University Classical Departments 1999

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