University of Sheffield archaeology department to remain open for two more years

The University of Sheffield said there will be no compulsory redundancies ahead of its archaeology department closure but campaigners say the “fight will never be over”.

The university faced backlash from around the world when it made the decision to close its world-renowned archaeology department earlier this year.

More than 42,000 people signed a petition fighting the closure and the Council for British Archaeology, among many others, warned that it would be devastating if it went ahead.

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Despite this, university management pushed ahead with its plans and has now announced the department will remain for a further two and a half years, closing at the end of 2023/24.

Students at a campus rally to support the archaeology department

It said after that time, permanent academics will be split between History and Biological Sciences.

The Save Sheffield Archaeology group said: “This is a better situation than the initial review proposed in May, but it is not the end.

“It is only through the strength of our campaign, the solidarity of our supporters and the threat of union action that we have reached this point. Thank you to everyone who has supported us this year.”

What are the University’s plans for the archaeology department?

Umberto Albarella, professor of zooarchaeology, shared a letter from Gill Valentine, deputy vice chancellor, which outlined these latest updates and a letter from himself responding to them on social media.

Commenting on the documents, he said: “Please, share and let the world know. The fight will never be over.”

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In Ms Valentine’s letter she said between now and the closure, there will be no compulsory redundancies, immediate changes, movement of staff or restructures.

She said after then, all academic staff on permanent contracts will move to either History or Biological Sciences and important collections of proven national and international significance will be kept.

Detailed planning will take place between the three departments to identify opportunities to develop interdisciplinary research and collaborations in the meantime.

The majority of current students are expected to finish their studies within the transitional period and recruitment to undergraduate programmes will remain suspended.

Professor Albarella said the announcement was “seven months too late” and showed either incompetence, not realising the damage such prolonged uncertainty has, or a deliberate attempt to cause as much damage as possible.

He said the decision also ignored advice to keep archaeologists together, rather than split them into different departments.

Several of the department’s staff are on temporary contracts and much of its teaching relies on them, Professor Albarella said, and he is awaiting written confirmation that professional service and technical staff will also keep their jobs.

He added: “Some of us are obviously relieved that there does not seem to be a plan to make academics on open-ended contracts redundant (but for how long?). Let’s make no mistake, our vibrant #SaveSheffieldArchaeology campaign of the last seven months will have had an influence on this decision.”

Ending his letter, Professor Albarella said: “Somebody will have to be made accountable for the, initially gradual, and then sudden, destruction of one of the best-renowned archaeology departments in the world. There has got to be an end to the shame that this is bringing to our university.”