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Archaeology at the University of Sheffield Under Threat

20 May

There is much to say and much too little time to say it all in, so let me cut to the quick – the world-class archaeology department at the University of Sheffield is at risk of closure and the staff at risk of redundancy. The results of a recent departmental review by the University of Sheffield is due Tuesday 25th May, along with a vote by the University Executive Board on the future of the department.

I found this out last night as a friend alerted me to the following screenshot:

I was guided also to the Save Sheffield Archaeology, which has further details on the departmental review and the importance of the archaeology department to the city and the academic community internationally. Most importantly it is the jobs that are at risk – the academic, postdocs, researchers and administrative staff, who all potentially face the risk of redundancy. As far as I currently understand the department itself is still fragmented physically as both lectures and staff are based across the University of Sheffield departments as the archaeology building itself is (or has been) undergoing much-needed structural repairs. Despite this, and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, teaching and research have still continued and student support has still been given.

You can help by reading the links below, searching out what other people and saying and what Saving Sheffield Archaeology are advising. If you are an archaeologist or know the department in any way – used to work there, studied there, are affiliated with it in any way, etc. – and are concerned for its future as I am, then please do sign the Change.org petition, email the VC and the University Executive Board, and make your voice known.

The decision on the future of the archaeology department at the University of Sheffield will be made on Tuesday 25th May. Stay tuned.

Bigger Issues

Readers of my blog will know that I attended the University of Sheffield in 2011-12 to study for my MSc in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology and reveled in the teaching, research and personal development opportunities that the course offered. I have friends who have studied there since and remain affiliated with the department. I am worried, I am concerned, and I will be writing to the VC and the University Executive Board with my concerns at their reviews and the three stated options available to it. I am deeply concerned at what appears to be an unforced and perhaps manufactured issue in staffing (not replacing retiring staff, which has seen current teaching staff drop from 29 to 11) and the longer-term trends of higher education being pulled in two different directions – between the demands of the market and the demands of providing, and supplying, quality education for all and the benefits of this for society and the economy. A third pressure has also made itself know in recent years at the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland wrestles control with its own myriad of identities.

HM Government have recently announced that it is considering cutting high-cost teaching supplement for undergraduate arts and archaeology courses by up to 50% in favour of more funding for STEM subjects, this along with the Government’s stated aim of simplifying planning permissions to encourage house building and infrastructure projects, puts archaeology and the archaeological record at possible risk as statutory consents are sidelined. Conversely the archaeology jobs sector has rarely been busier, with many major projects ongoing utilizing a range of archaeological specialisms, from drone operators to archaeological geomatics, from field staff to human osteologists, etc. One only needs to think of HS2 or Crossrail or road infrastructures projects in eastern England to think of how many archaeologists are currently employed in varying roles and positions. In fact archaeologists are on the Skilled Worker visa: shortage occupations for April 2021, the only social and humanities scientists category to make it.

It is a worrying time for ease of access to archaeological courses in higher education, as tuition fees remain high and are climbing for postgraduate study and research. One effect of Brexit is the annulment of EU fees category remaining the same as home fees for students and instead becoming aligned with international fees. This has a severe impact for those nearest and dearest European neighbours. For instance the 2021 MSc in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology tuition fee at the University of Sheffield is now priced at £11,000 for home students and £23,250 for overseas students. This is a staggering sum for higher education and one well out of the reach for many. I raise this point as archaeology in particular has a strong pull for bringing together international students and researchers, and Sheffield’s department is well known for its ties across Europe and the wider world. Fees such as this are just one more barrier to cross.

Archaeology as a topic unto itself is broad, welcoming and diverse – whoever and wherever you are, you too came from somewhere and within that is the story of ultimately both your past and mine. Archaeology is the investigation into the great human story and the department at Sheffield is one such place where we can view it. How sad it would be to see a portal on the past close.

How to Help

You Know When You’re Passionate About Bones When…

2 Mar

You examine the remains of a friend’s meal which involved pork  ribs, and start informing them about general bone properties and anatomy, fracture patterns in dry and fresh bone, and sternal rib end morphology in relation to age assessment at death.  Although your friends may not always welcome the information!

As regular readers will note it has been quiet on this site for the past month or so- this is due to a variety of reasons, though partly down to two reasons in particular.

Firstly I recently had a nasty dental abscess that required surgery, and the unfortunate removal of two molar teeth that I had become rather attached too.  Secondly I have been rethinking the aim of this blog, and of the value of a blog in general.

I have always stated that this blog is just an introduction to my interests in the fields of human osteology and archaeology, and as such, I have tried to present a variety of informative scholarly articles, personal thoughts on archaeological matters, guest posts, and an introductory series to human skeletal anatomy.  I always try to encourage wider reading with the inclusion of links in text to reliable sites or links to articles and academic texts used in the blog entry.

Whilst the main aims will continue, I will also aim to try and bring in some original content regarding osteological or archaeological matters.  As a key part of this future posts will tackle the changing nature of tertiary education in the UK, from political implications to the changing tack of academic institutions regarding departments, fees and student allocations.  This also includes the supply and demand of osteological courses compared to the value and market prospects of graduates.

 

Closures and Petitions: University of Birmingham & Wincobank Hill in Sheffield

2 Jul

There have been a few outrages recently in the heritage world in the United Kingdom.  Firstly I want to draw your attention to the threatened closure of the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity (IAA) at the University of Birmingham.    The institute has been threatened with closure as a result of University cutbacks.  It is proposed that a total of 19 staff would be left without a job, whilst only 4 out of the 18 employed archaeologists would retain their job.  The remaining IAA staff would then be spread around the Universities various departments.  Just how will the University provide valued and respected teaching in the subjects of archaeology,  ancient history, and classics, has been the subject of heated debate and speculation by all those involved.

The University has provided a statement saying that the closure of the IAA would be mitigated by the setting up of a Centre for Archaeology Research in its place.  A claim which the UCU University of Birmingham website state that it would just be an online website, and not a true centre for research of academic excellence.  The UCU website has a detailed entry setting out how this whole debacle has been ‘disastrously mishandled‘ from the outset.  The ‘Archaeology’ facebook group has been active in calling out for signatures to help show public support for the subjects involved at the University, as it is a scenario that is likely being watched very closely by other universities that house archaeology, ancient history and classical departments.  Archaeologists remain upbeat however- an unknown person has made a humorous youtube Downfall parody, showing an angry Hitler threatening to take archaeology back to the dark ages (sadly copyright has been slapped rather fast on this video!).

Meanwhile in my section of the woods, there has been much speculation and dismay at the plans to build a new housing estate on the Iron Age site of Wincobank Hill, located just inside the city of Sheffield. Information on the site of Wincobank Hill can be found here, and there is an English Heritage page about it here.  A petition has been set up for signatures to be gathered showing support for new housing not to be built on the protected land.  There are already worries that sections of the Iron Age enclosure are being damaged through neglect, and it would be unfortunate if more of this interesting site was lost to professionals and enthusiasts alike.  The planning meeting was held recently, and it was with great pleasure that the application to build 24 new houses on the site was turned down.  However, there will be further developments, and it is vital that this campaign is sustained.

It is hoped that there will be another guest entry on this blog in the near future, but for the moment I have to focus on my dissertation research and write up.  I’ll be around though…

The View From Wincobank Hill (Change Petition 2012).

Update 07/09/12:

The fight still goes on for both of these causes.  Regarding Wincobank Hill near the city of Sheffield, the City Council have decided to refuse planning permission on the site.  However the battle continues as the decision now goes to the Planning Inspectorate to uphold the decision of Sheffield City Council in the preservation of this little understood Iron Age/Romano-British site.  You can do your part now in protecting Britain’s heritage by signing this petition here.

Update 29/09/12:

A fairly depressing update regarding the position and tactics used by Birmingham University regarding the department of archaeology.  The article can be read here, and the headline says it all, ‘The University of Birmingham throws in the trowel- as College buries Archaeology! ‘.  The tactics also seems to be promoting past projects to entice new students, whilst ignoring the on-going destruction of a valued department.

Update 14/01/13:

Fantastic news regarding the Scheduled Ancient Monument of the Iron Age site of Wincobank Hill in Sheffield- the Planning Inspector has dismissed Investates appeal to build houses on the site, and the site will remain green and building free.  It is an excellent result, and an impressive show of the interest of both professionals and of the interested public.