The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 108

Issue 108

Sept / Oct 2009



Major slipware kiln site found near Leeds

Roman graves rescued: but cemetery doomed?

Isle of Man house is one of Britain's first

In the press

In Brief & Phase 2


THE BIG DIG: Fetternear
Penelope Dransart reports on the topical issue of MPs claims expenese, at Kettlethorpe Hall

London: the mud of ages
Lorna Richardson reports on the discoveries made by the Thames Discovery Programme community initiative and Nick Booth describes his Foreshore Group training

For the sake of the worms
As we celebrate Charles Darwin, Matthew Law considers one of his less well-known interests that led him to excavate at ancient sites

on the web

Recommended websites
Caroline Wickham-Jones reviews How to get active with archaeology, and John Schofield looks at Flash methods to view the evolution of graffiti


your views and responses, with further Beneath the Sea coverage

book review

We review a new publication about the Vindolanda Roman Fort

CBA Correspondent

Mike Heyworth welcomes new HLF money for training, and highlights the CBA's role


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


Continuing Education: Discontinued?

Think you might take a part-time university course in Egyptology or Roman Britain? Enrol now if you want to do so in England. Richard Lee talked to adult education centres: his findings have potentially drastic implications for the whole of British archaeology.

The world known as continuing education, lifelong learning or adult education, is changing quickly and dramatically. As those of you will be aware who have taken courses at your local university – or taught them – the opportunities are not what they were. Over the last 10 years course provision in archaeology has dropped by 61%. This year has seen that decline accelerate: indeed the coming autumn is seen by many as the potential tipping point for the whole future of continuing education, archaeological or otherwise.

The minutes of the Council for British Archaeology's very first meeting in 1944 set out its commitment to work for all levels of archaeological education, including "the wider field of adult education". Continuing education had existed in one form or another at British universities since the 1930s, and developed significantly after the second world war in the drive for public education. The introduction of local history as a subject at universities in the 1930s had paved the way for archaeology, and by the 1960s and 1970s the subject was flourishing. The sector received a further boost in the mid-1990s from Time Team, whose huge viewing figures introduced archaeology to a large public audience. Many of those viewers transferred their interest into an active archaeological involvement by signing up for evening classes at the local university centre for continuing education. This period also saw a growth in existing regional archaeology societies, and newly-formed community heritage groups.

Over the last 18 months the CBA has been undertaking some research, funded by English Heritage, looking at archaeology's position within continuing education. The full project report, Engaging with the Historic Environment: Continuing Education, has just been published on the CBA website. I asked university continuing education centres throughout England about their current archaeological provision, as well as questioning tutors and participants. The detailed results of this survey are available in the report.

Over the decades continuing education has provided professional archaeology with many of its leading practitioners and recognised figures. During their time in continuing education they have gone on to produce work of national, and sometimes international, renown. The most visible example of this is Mick Aston, much of whose research was undertaken at the University of Bristol's Centre for Continuing Education during the past 20 years.

In spite of this long and influential history, the current changes to continuing education are proceeding so rapidly that in the last six months alone the universities of Cardiff, Manchester and Reading, and London's City University, have all announced that they will cease to provide continuing education this summer. In most cases these closures had not been foreseen, and came as a surprise to all concerned.

At Reading students currently registered for the certificate of higher education in archaeology will be able to finish their studies, but no new enrolment will be accepted. A proposed merger with the local WEA centre may see continuing education continue at Reading in late 2009. A last-minute reprieve has saved adult archaeology at Bristol, which will now run a series of short courses in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology. However the rest of the university's continuing education programme has not survived so well.

All these universities had significant archaeology courses, and Bristol was one of the country's leaders in archaeological continuing education. These names can be added to a list of closures that began in 2004 at the University of Leeds, and since then has included Bath, Birmingham, Durham, Exeter, Leicester, Newcastle, Southampton and Surrey, amongst others. Large areas of the country are now entirely without any university-based continuing education: someone living in Cornwall, for example, would now have to travel 300km to reach their nearest course.

CBA records offer a snapshot of the changes. In 1999 there were 1,327 archaeology courses offered at 39 universities: now there are 515 courses offered at 22 universities. The biggest single drop in those figures has been over the last 12 months – an illustration of how rapidly the situation is developing. In any subject, continuing education as we used to know it now exists only at the following universities: Aberdeen, Aberystwyth, Bangor, Birkbeck, Bradford, Cambridge, East Anglia, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Keele, Kent, Lancaster, Liverpool, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield, Sunderland, Sussex, Swansea, Warwick and York.

A number of factors are driving this change. Universities have traditionally perceived their continuing education provision as part of their widening participation and outreach activity, which they were prepared to subsidise. This is no longer the case, and subsidies have been withdrawn or cut back significantly. Such reductions have meant that departments have had to raise student fees, and in some cases set high increases parallel to full-time fees. Inevitably, many potential students are deterred from enrolling.

Compounding this grave situation, university funding has been further hit by the government-imposed cutbacks known as ELQ – equivalent or lower level qualifications. This is a directive introduced by secretary of state for the Department of Universities, Innovation and Skills, John Denham, in September 2007. Denham sent a letter to HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) directing funding withdrawal for students in England working for a second degree at the same level as their first or lower qualification. So this twin economic impact has had the effect of attacking the pockets of both current and potential new students – and all this during a recession.

To put this decision in context, at the University of Cambridge Centre for Continuing Education 80% of archaeology students are hit by the ELQ cuts. At the University of Hull, 22% of their students are affected similarly. Between those two statistics, the ELQ decision has affected 60–80% of students at Reading, Sheffield, Sussex and Birkbeck. Clearly these figures represent a significant proportion of archaeology students throughout English adult education, including the Open University: all are now paying higher fees.

Aware of the situation, HEFCE has recently announced a policy review. This will report its findings into the impact of the ELQ decision, and how this has affected student enrolment, this autumn. Whilst the review is welcomed, it has come too late for those universities who have already decided to axe their continuing education. In a further potential blow to the 22 surviving such departments, the review will come too late to change the picture before enrolment begins this summer for 2009/10.

The combined effect of the course fees increase, the ELQ cutbacks and the financial recession has left many continuing education providers deeply concerned about this autumn's student enrolment. This was not affected by the credit crunch during 2008, but the university consensus is that it will make an impact this year. Some universities fear that student numbers could be affected to such a degree that management will swiftly terminate continuing education departments. Courses and jobs will be lost.

The closure of continuing education centres will have a huge impact on the archaeological community. Immediately affected are those who want to take part-time evening, or weekend, classes. The most popular options here include Egyptology, British prehistory, Roman Britain and practical archaeology courses. Those options are now rapidly disappearing, effectively creating a barrier to those who would like to study that way, regardless of whether the class is accredited or not. This loss means that there will be a severe reduction in practical and fieldwork opportunities for potential students.

Aligned with this is the fact that many of the excavation courses are linked to local societies or community archaeology groups. They in turn often use these courses for their members as training opportunities unavailable elsewhere. Traditionally, local societies and community archaeology groups have had long-standing partnerships with continuing education. The breakdown in these partnerships is creating increasingly autonomous community groups, who in many cases now find it difficult to provide practical training for new members of the group.

To support continuing education departments, the CBA hopes to work with the existing continuing education providers whose representatives are members of SCACE (Standing Conference for Archaeology in Continuing Education). Reinvigorated by the current situation, Scace will be relaunched with a new name, ALL (Archaeology in Lifelong Learning) to better reflect the changing times. All and the CBA will be campaigning to reverse the ELQ decision.

Times Higher Education reported the results of the CBA continuing education report in May (, and further journal articles will follow throughout the summer. The CBA plans to undertake a feasibility study into the possibility of launching a new CBA initiative to boost continuing education (see CBA correspondent). We also hope to build better links among those who do still offer continuing education courses in archaeology, so a supportive network can help spread good ideas, expertise and experiences among teachers and providers, wherever they are based, not just universities.

Continuing education is the bedrock of much archaeological learning in this country. Archaeology has too much invested in it, over many years, to let it be eroded away during a time of financial uncertainty. If we were to remove all of continuing education's contributions to our discipline over the last century we would see a very different and poorer archaeological landscape – one in which many of us would no longer feature. For continuing education in 2009 it really is a case of use it or lose it: or for many people it will not be there in 2010.

Richard Lee researched continuing education as the Council for British Archaeology's project officer for education.

Continuing archaeology at Bristol

Over the past year many universities have cut their lifelong learning programmes due largely to financial pressures created by a change in government funding. We felt these strongly at Bristol, and while short courses in many subjects will cease from the end of this academic year, we are delighted that our efforts to keep many of our archaeology courses have been successful. There has been some confusion about this in the recent press, but we are very pleased to confirm that archaeology lifelong learning will continue at Bristol.

We feel this is particularly important in archaeology, as the subject is under-represented in traditional academic routes such as GCSE and A level. Our archaeology continuing education programme offers a range of day schools and evening courses throughout the year, and for many, these courses are their first experience of the discipline. A good proportion of students from the continuing education programme are inspired to commit to more substantial study on either our part time degree (taught at weekends) or on our full time degree programmes at the University of Bristol. Now that similar opportunities have ceased at other universities in the south-west, Bristol's are the only such courses in the region. Our programme for next year also includes classes in Devon, Somerset and Gloucestershire.

Ailsa Laxton, lifelong learning coordinator, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol.

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