University of Sheffield confirm archaeology department will be closed in decision staff call 'unequivocal end' for the subject

Staff and students who belong to the University of Sheffield's world-renowned school of archaeology have been told today that the department will close and limited teaching transferred to others.

A rally was held in May to support the department

Today (July 13) the University Council officially ratified recommendations made by the Senate in the spring which will see the department, which is in the top 50 in the world and was established in 1976, cease to exist as its own entity.

Some staff will be retained and attached to other departments to focus on specialist areas of postgraduate study, but undergraduate courses will be phased out due to what the both the unviersity management and academics agree is a crisis in student recruitment.

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Department members claim that they received the news in a meeting presided over by the vice-chancellor, Professor Koen Lamberts, that lasted just 13 minutes and were not given the oppportunity to interject or comment.

A departmental statement read: "Colleagues in the department of archaeology at the University of Sheffield have today been informed that the University of Sheffield Council has decided to endorse the proposal of the University Executive Board to close our department. This means the unequivocal end of archaeology in the University of Sheffield.

"We received this information in a presentation which lasted 13 minutes. There was no ability to engage or respond as our microphones and cameras were kept off the entire time. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the decision taken by the university as well as the rudeness and lack of professionalism of the form of communication chosen. This is a decision that harms both the university and the city of Sheffield, within which our department is strongly embedded. Our campaign to oppose this calamitous decision will continue."

A rise in tuition fees, reduction in government subsidies for arts subjects and increased emphasis on graduate employability have all been cited in factors in the degree's decline.

It is now known whether the 10 applicants who hold offers to begin undergraduate programmes in the autumn will still be able to study at Sheffield, although teaching will continue for students currently enrolled.

Sheffield archaeologists have been involved in numerous excavations across Yorkshire, including the digs at the Sheffield Castle site in 2001 and 2017, and also run short courses for the general public. They work with organisations including the Peak District National Park and run community events.

Professor Umberto Albarella, who joined the department in 2004, called for a boycott and action by the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) after over 46,500 people signed a Change.org petition opposing the closure.

Professor Albarella said: "(There has been a) lack of any democratic process and the Council has not acted as an independent body. Fifteen minutes, no conversation, no questions. My word is RESIGNATION. I hope the UCU will vote for a boycott."

There are 11 permanent teaching staff and it is not yet known which will keep their positions to deliver taught Masters courses in specialisms that have been identified as attractive to postgraduates, particularly those from overseas.

An extensive statement was released by the University of Sheffield, whose representatives said that the University Council had been overwhelmingly supportive of the process and satisfied with the review conducted by the Senate.

"A recommendation to retain archaeological teaching and research at the University of Sheffield was agreed on Monday evening.

"The discipline will continue to be taught and researched at Sheffield through being aligned with other departments instead of continuing as a separate department.

"This approach will see the university continue to develop and invest in archaeological research, knowledge exchange, teaching and learning.

"It will continue to collaborate with other universities, and work with partners and communities on projects and important cultural heritage work across the city and beyond it.

"The University's Executive Board (UEB) made the recommendation in the face of challenging external pressures, not least a declining interest in studying archaeology by undergraduates, a trend which has been experienced by many leading universities over the past five years. It believes archaeology teaching and research can thrive at Sheffield through focusing on key areas of excellence, and teaching and research at postgraduate level.

"The University’s Council met on Monday evening to discuss the recommendation which had been made following a review which the UEB had initiated. The review included three potential options: to support proposals for investment put forward by the department; to close the department; to retain key areas of strength in archaeological research and teaching by aligning them with other parts of the university.

"An Implementation Group will now consider the views of staff and students as it develops detailed proposals on the areas of key teaching and research strength that will be retained, where they are best aligned, and the support and investment needed to ensure they thrive."

Vice-chancellor Professor Koen Lamberts said: “The university is determined to secure the future of archaeology in Sheffield in the face of a very challenging external environment which has seen a significant decline in the number of students choosing to read archaeology, as has been experienced by many other leading universities.

“The decision by University Council to ratify the board’s recommended course of action, following a review, does not alter the outcome that archaeology will continue to be taught and researched in Sheffield.

“Not only will we maintain and support archaeology at the university, we will work with our colleagues and partners to ensure it thrives through focusing on postgraduate studies and investing in key areas of excellence which have contributed to Sheffield’s reputation as a top 100 global university with world-leading research and innovation.

“This decision will ensure that many fantastic projects and the outstanding work our staff and students undertake with partners and communities within the city and far beyond it will continue to enrich our cultural heritage, knowledge of the past and people’s lives.

“We will continue to support our staff and students through this process, and will work with them collaboratively as we consider how to take the recommendation forward.”

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