Alea iacta est. Really? Come on, roll again

Discipline's doyens launch Classics defence against Royal Holloway plans. Jack Grove writes

July 21, 2011

Grace and favour: Classics could bring in punters, scholars claim

Two leading classicists have publicly challenged "misleading" assumptions about the discipline that, they claim, are driving plans to reform a well-regarded university department.

Robin Osborne, professor of ancient history at the University of Cambridge, and Bruce Gibson, professor of Latin at the University of Liverpool, have written to Royal Holloway, University of London to call for a rethink of proposals that could lead to the merger of its Classics and history departments.

The changes could signal the end of the institution's BA Classics course, although a smaller teaching team would continue to provide classical studies.

More than 1,600 people have signed an online petition to "save Classics at Royal Holloway" and 3,600 have added their names to a Facebook page campaigning against the proposals.

In a detailed letter to Katie Normington, dean of arts at Royal Holloway, Professor Osborne and Professor Gibson, the chairman and secretary respectively of the Council of University Classical Departments, argue that the plans underestimate the department's "power and attractions". They say that Classics could prove vital in attracting lucrative foreign students from China, Japan and the US.

"Suggestions that 'the discipline is self-evidently Europe-facing' and the potential for transnational education 'is very limited in Classics' are just wrong," they write.

"Attracting overseas students does demand putting effort into advertising, but the potential is significant. High-profile senior colleagues at (Royal Holloway) are ideally placed to exploit these markets."

Classics departments also tend to score highly in the National Student Survey, they add.

"The scores at (Royal Holloway) stand up very well to comparison either with other UK Classics departments (or) indeed with other humanities departments at (the university)."

The pair also dismiss concerns about the impact of £9,000-a-year tuition fees on student numbers.

They take issue with the claim that numbers will halve from 80 to 40 as a result of the fees increase, claiming that the department would lose just six students.

"It has become very clear that arts degrees, and Classics not least among them, translate into lucrative employment as readily as many science degrees," they say.

"It is extremely unlikely that the shape of student demand is going to change significantly. It is unwarranted and dangerous to assume that the status quo will alter: the proper default planning assumption must be of steady state demand until we have evidence otherwise."

They also challenge assumptions about a drop in funding and the department's financial ill health.

A spokesman for Royal Holloway said a consultation was under way "on a number of proposals designed to secure Classics as part of our academic portfolio for the long term".

He added: "We welcome the input that Robin Osborne and Bruce Gibson have made in their letter and in our recent meeting with them, along with any other contributions or suggestions of alternative routes ... so long as they are realistic and respond to the issues we are facing and the challenges that lie ahead."

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