What employers love the most

August 29, 1997

In the third of our series on degrees we look at what students can expect from ancient and modern subjects

CLASSICS may conjure images of dusty declension books, full of amo, amas, amat but it seems more students are learning to love it, writes Harriet Swain.

A couple of years ago, classics showed a greater increase in applications than any subject except philosophy. Popular television programmes on antiquity, books of ancient myths, trips to Greece and a scattering of enthusiastic school classics teachers combine to form a dedicated band of both sixth-formers and mature students.

Numbers are still small, with just over 700 undergraduate places every year for the single honours subject, but numbers have risen despite the reduction in school classics departments.

Most university departments outside Oxford and Cambridge offer ways of studying classics without qualifications in the languages, and even at Oxbridge it is possible to take a classics degree with only a basic knowledge of Latin or Greek.

Modularisation means students can choose to focus on ancient history, archaeology, literature and philosophy. Classicists are also becoming more interested in literary theory and social history.

New areas of research include bilingualism among Greeks and Romans and Rome's domestic architecture, while other recent studies have examined Greek drama, images of classical decadence in 19th-century art, sex and food in ancient Greece and the portrayal of Greece and Rome in film. It appears this kind of work keeps classicists ahead in the jobs market.

A recent study of graduates' first destinations showed people who had studied classics were less likely to be unemployed in the first six months after leaving university than those from any other subject.

Christopher Rowe, chair of the Council of the Classical Association, said classics graduates went into almost any job from the city to law to art and design. "What we are giving them is transferable skills," he said. "One of the reasons we have been so successful is that we haven't gone on banging away along traditional lines. We still emphasise language as the basis but we have made the courses as accessible as they can be."

Classics has not been assessed for teaching quality. In the latest RAE, the grade 5 star was awarded to Cambridge, Institute of Classical Studies, Oxford, King's College London and UCL.

Classics facts

* There were 1,909 people enrolled on undergraduate classics courses in 1995/96.

* Just 100 of these were overseas students.

* By June this year there were 4,348 applications to read classics, 89 more than the previous year.

* Applications outnumber vacancies by six to one.

Source: UCAS and HESA

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