RHUL Classics Department in crisis

This summer, Royal Holloway announced hugely unpopular plans to make drastic cuts to the Department of Classics and Philosophy.

The proposed cuts would result in the reduction of the September 2012 intake for students studying BAs in Classical Studies and Ancient History and Joint Honours degrees from around 80 to just 40 per year, while the Classics degree will be completely abolished. In addition, the Philosophy staff will move to the Department of Politics and International Relations and one Research Professor will move to the English Department. Of the remaining eleven positions, six will ‘disappear’ by 2014 with the other five moving to the History Department.

The Classics Department responded, defending high salary costs due to the fact that nearly half of the staff are Professors. They argued that this cost could be supplemented by increased income from sources such as postgraduate and overseas student fees, as well as research grants.

In addition, the department pointed out that applications in 2011 were up by 52.3% with the number of students receiving a conditional offer from Royal Holloway as their first choice up by 149.4%, somewhat negating the college’s reasoning that the Classics Department admits a high volume of students through Clearing and that students paying £9000 per year will not be attracted to the Classics Department.

This argument is supported by a letter to the university from Professors R.G. Osborne and Bruce Gibson, Chairman and Secretary of the Council of University Classics Departments, who suggest that: ‘The assumption that a £9000 fee will discourage students from studying arts subjects was being widely made when high fees were announced. Subsequently it has, however, become very clear that since arts degrees…translate into lucrative employment as readily as many science degrees…it is extremely unlikely that the shape of student demand is going to change significantly’. They also claimed that the department at Royal Holloway would ‘out-rank in size and quality the vast majority of departments in continental Europe,North America, and indeed anywhere’, and would thus attract the overseas students to supplement its salary costs.

At a meeting last month to discuss the department’s closure, senior History lecturer Graham Smith gave a speech saying that this is an entirely political move, not an economic one: ‘There is no economic crisis at the university…This is not about economics, it’s about politics’.

Further strengthening protests against the closure of the department from students and the academic world comes the result of the 2010-11 National Student Survey, where the Classics Department scored 90% for overall satisfaction, beating the overall score of 87% for the college as a whole.

SURHUL President, Dan Cooper, is leading a ‘working group’ with other students to decide how best to protest the changes, hoping to find out who is on the college council to appeal to them individually.

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