Ineffectual institute

July 25, 2013

The Royal Anthropological Institute’s aborted deal to partner the University of Buckingham in offering a master’s degree in anthropology (“Tribal uprising over Royal Institute-Buckingham anthropology pact”, 11 July) is symptomatic of an institution masquerading as a professional organisation for anthropologists in the UK that does little to promote the interests of either the discipline or UK students.

Decision-making members of the executive are appointed by members of committees and councils, and decisions are made without consultation of the general membership of fellows. These decisions, taken without offering the rank and file any opportunity to vote on them, are presented and ratified as a formality in an annual general meeting.

For more than four decades, I have been a fellow of the RAI and have paid an annual membership fee. During this time, I have never once been offered the opportunity to contribute to any debate or decision-making.

I once raised the issue of the lack of employment opportunities for UK postgraduates, but it was denied and ignored.

The RAI has promoted the terminal decline of anthropology during a time when there has been a corresponding rise in the fortunes of psychology in the UK as advocated and defended by its professional organisation.

The RAI is an oligarchy of professors protecting ever-declining resources in a period when UK students are unlikely to pay extremely high fees for degrees in anthropology given the dire employment prospects. Hence the concern over losing potential MA fees to Buckingham. As it becomes an export-only discipline for funded European Union and international students, it has less relevance and impact in the UK.

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