Protests derail Buckingham-Royal Anthropological Institute pact

Scholars dismayed at MA partnership with private university

July 11, 2013

Source: Getty

Bad match? Scholars baulk at a pairing with ‘Thatcherite’ Buckingham

The Royal Anthropological Institute has pulled out of a deal to partner the University of Buckingham in offering a master’s degree in anthropology after members expressed grave concerns.

The institute had originally agreed to work “in association with” the university on the London-based £7,000 degree (£13,200 for overseas students) but has backed out after members complained about a lack of consultation.

They also expressed fears that the arrangement would place the RAI in direct competition with members’ own universities and raised concerns over the academic independence of their organisation if it went into partnership with Buckingham.

RAI members who spoke to Times Higher Education on condition of anonymity claim the first that they heard about the course was in an advert that appeared in the press seeking to recruit students.

They said that they were concerned not only by the lack of consultation over the course but also about its likely quality. It is thought that senior RAI members had threatened to resign if the deal went ahead.

“The course content as advertised would not get anywhere near approval at any of the universities that we work at,” one member said.

“Also, by establishing an MA, the RAI would be setting itself up in competition with the universities that pay the RAI fellows’ salaries, rather than remaining independent.”

Another described the decision-making process around the partnership as a “fait accompli”, while a third was concerned about the institute’s decision to partner a private university with such close links to the late Baroness Thatcher, who formally opened the institution and was its second chancellor.

An article about the course in the RAI’s journal, Anthropology Today, notes, with irony: “Thatcher’s legacy was the commercialization of the university sector and she will be fondly remembered by anthropologists for claiming that ‘there is no such thing as society’.”

It is believed that RAI president Clive Gamble took the decision to block the deal after the arrangement was made public and members made complaints.

“It is not quite clear what the fallout will be,” a third source told us. “But I think the RAI is worried because Buckingham might already have invested money in this, there has been advertising, and now it is not going ahead.”

Times Higher Education spoke to the RAI’s director, David Shankland, who was to have directed the programme, but he opted not to comment.

Professor Gamble would not speak to THE about specific details, but in a statement said: “We were exploring the possibility [of an MA with Buckingham], but after discussions with the wider community of social anthropologists we decided not to go ahead.”

A spokeswoman for Buckingham said the MA had been “deferred” but insisted that the course would go ahead at some point in the future – although it was unclear whether this would be in association with the institute.

At the time of writing, the university had removed information about the course from its website.

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