The M2020 team response to our specific questions on the 9th August was met with another redirection to discuss our concerns with Professor David Langslow, the Head of the Division of Archaeology, Religions and Theology, and classics and Ancient History. Myself and Katie Mills (a PhD student) met with David, and Professor Alessandro Schiesaro the Head of the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures on 16th August to discuss our concerns. The meeting lasted an hour, and was recorded, but I provide a summary of the responses from by David and Alessandro below.
Q: How do you propose to ensure that we ‘will not experience any disruption’ to our studies in the event that we lose one, two or all three members of our supervisory panel?
A: They accept that there will be some disruption to most students, but that they will work to minimise that disruption. They could not give us any information about how they would minimise disruption beyond finding new supervisors.
Q: How will you ensure that the remaining staff have adequate expertise to provide PhD level advice and supervision in all our research areas?
A: They can’t. Whilst neither David nor Alessandro were willing to offer options for supervision themselves, they agreed that a number of possible scenarios proposed by me would be most likely, namely that alternative supervisors will be sought within the department, within the University of Manchester in other departments, or externally from other Universities.
The PhD students have repeatedly requested clarification from the University regarding the possibility of formally retaining our supervisors as externals in the event that they are made redundant, but HR have not responded to our, or David’s request for clarification. Our expectation is that it will not be possible to retain supervisors in this formal capacity as legally one cannot continue to pay for services from someone that you have made redundant.
It was clear that whilst the University does not have to accept a request for Voluntary Severance (VS), there is no plan or strategy for the future of the Archaeology department against which to make decisions about who stays and who goes. The number of PhD students is one of a number of criteria to be taken into account when making redundancy decisions, but as most staff have at least one PhD student, this will neither prevent disruption to current students, nor ensure adequate expertise to supervise PhD students.
Q: What will happen if more than 4 members of staff voluntarily leave the department? Specifically, will the University recruit to replace those staff and maintain a minimum of 4 staff?
A: They were unable to provide any reassurance that the University would recruit new staff to maintain 4 members of staff in the department, or that replacement staff would be of an equal level of seniority or similar area of expertise.
Q: What plans are in place to ensure that the archaeology department continues to produce increasing quantities of world‑leading research. To this end, what provisions will be put in place to ensure that the research produced by staff within the archaeology department does not deteriorate to the level of other departments in the UK with 4-5 members of staff.
A: David confirmed that the work allocation model and percentage of time allocated to research would remain the same, as would all normal research support for staff at the university. There was no recognition that staff in a department of 4 might struggle to produce world leading research compared to colleagues in a larger department, and no suggestion that there would be additional support from the University for staff to improve the quality of the research.
Q: Why does the university need to ‘urgently improve the quality of our intake’ and what do you foresee the results to be of maintaining the current admission process?
A: The increase in entry tariff is a university wide step, made with a view to reducing the number of undergraduate students at the university. There was some acknowledgement that this step would adversely and disproportionately affect archaeology. There is great concern within the School about the decreasing numbers of UG students at Manchester, despite this being a UK wide trend in Archaeology, but very little being done beyond the department to address the problem.
They were unable to make any useful comment beyond the fact that entry tariffs and non-traditional A-level routes are something to be discussed when they know what the ‘new’ smaller department will look like.
They were somewhat taken aback by the two pages of testimonials I presented them with, from alumni who had come to the department with A-level grades below BBB and either achieved 2:1 or 1sts. Furthermore, many of these had gone on to excel within the profession, either going directly into employment within archaeology, further study and many to PhD research in archaeology.
Q: What is the vision is for the department in terms of the courses it is expected to deliver, and the breadth of subjects expected to be covered?
A: They were unable to provide any information about this, and unwilling to make comment until they know who would be staying and who would be going. Discussions about what the department might teach from 2018 would take place after the deadline for VS and CR.
With regards to the impact on GTA teaching opportunities, they are working on the assumption that there will be less courses being taught, but also less PhD students/GTAs to offer teaching opportunities to, and that all PhD students would continue to have the opportunity to teach. No PhD student should be overloaded with teaching as we are not under any obligation to accept teaching.
Q: How will adequate supervisory time be ensured for PhD students when the staff within the archaeology department are overloaded with undergraduate teaching and supervision.
A: The only answer given was that the work allocation model would remain the same and therefore the same amount of time should be available for supervisions.
There was no real acknowledgement that although student numbers have declined this intake, there are still full complements of students in their 2nd year, who will need supervising through their 3rd year starting Autumn 2018. There will also be around 10 PhD students who will need supervising, which is a heavy load for just 4 members of staff, when each PhD student has a first and second supervisor and independent reviewer.
Q: We request that any consideration of merging the department of archaeology with Classics and Ancient History, or any other department, be clarified and stated out‑right.
A: Nothing is being discussed at the moment until they know which staff are staying. The whole of the structure of SALC is being looked at as well, and the indication was that this is an option, certainly from the point of view of sharing administrative support, etc.
So, overall, very little was offered to reassure the PhD students. This was not entirely surprising given that neither David nor Alessandro were architects of the M2020 plan, but have merely been told to carry out the redundancies associated with it.
What did become absolutely clear though, was that despite the M2020 strategy being in place, there was no strategy in place to determine what the smaller 4 person Archaeology Department would look like, what it would teach and research, and how it would interact with the wider School and University. This was particularly alarming given that there is the potential to be left with 4 members of staff with no overlapping areas of research, which would make creating a cohesive and attractive UG degree extremely difficult. It would also, of course, make supervision of PhD students difficult and ultimately end with the collapse of UG and PhD student numbers, and the closure of the department. With a cynical eye, this seems like a highly attractive approach for the University to take, if they wanted to close the department of archaeology down quietly. By taking this approach, it could be said to have failed by itself, when evidently the lack of support for the subject from the University would be to blame.
Furthermore, given the University’s poor view of the Archaeology Department’s 2014 REF results, it was frustrating, but not surprising, to learn that no assistance, professional support or CPD type support is in place to enable staff to improve the quality of work submitted for future REF assessments. Given one of the main aims of the M2020 project is to improve the quality of research at the University this seems astonishing.
The PhD students are extremely frustrated that this seems to be the end of any discussion with the University. The M2020 team are unwilling to engage further and provide any further information about their plans or vision for the department, and David and Alessandro have nothing further to offer. It seems we must wait until decisions have been taken about which members of staff are to be made redundant.
Watch this space.