Blow for future of heritage studies in Yorkshire as University of Hull ends undergraduate archaeology teaching

A second Yorkshire university is dropping archaeology as part of an undergraduate degree course despite a shortfall in professionals exacerbated by Brexit.

The University of Hull
The University of Hull

The last 10 students from the University of Hull completed their History & Archaeology BA in June. However teaching of the subject will continue at postgraduate level.

Ironically it means no undergraduates being trained locally in what is one of the richest areas for archaeology in the country, with East Yorkshire known for its stunning horse and chariot Iron Age burials.

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Hull’s course, which attracted many mature students, scored 100 per cent for overall full-time student satisfaction in the National Student Survey for the four years until 2020.

East Yorkshire has been the scene for many exciting discoveries including the Iron Age shield on which a warrior was laid to rest more than 2,000 years ago in Pocklington in 2018

However numbers had dwindled and recruitment for new students stopped without fanfare in 2019.

It comes after the furore over a decision at Sheffield University which will see its archaeology department, which is in the top 50 in the world, cease to exist as its own entity.

Some staff will be retained at Sheffield and attached to other departments to focus on specialist areas of postgraduate study, but undergraduate courses will be phased out, following a crisis in student recruitment. Department members have pledged to continue opposing the move.

It means York and Bradford will be the only universities left in the region teaching archaeology at undergraduate level.

Brexit has impacted on the number of trained practitioners available, with many European nationals returning home, at a time when demand is rising as a result of large infrastructure projects like HS2.

Senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Hull Helen Fenwick said it marked the end of an era for “25 years of very successful teaching of archaeology”.

She said: “Many of our students were mature returners, students who were looking for a career change or a return to work after being stay at home parents.

"Archaeology is seen as one of those professions heavily hit by Brexit and because of the large infrastructure work going on there is a dire need for trained archaeologists with a reducing number of opportunities to be trained.”

Richard Coates, secretary of the East Riding Archaeological Society, who did his BA and MA at the University of Hull as a mature student, said: “It is diabolical, absolutely wrong. They are closing so many archaeology units throughout the country. We are losing all our future archaeologists.”

Treasurer and membership secretary of ERAS Colin Parr, who started a part-time course in 2003 at the University after taking voluntary redundancy from BAE Systems, said: "If you look at any site in the East Riding in the local area you will find people who have done the Hull Uni course and we all work together."

Former City of York archaeologist John Oxley said the UK was struggling for archaeologists. He said: “Put simply there is not enough home-grown archaeologists.”

While courses are popular, people who make it their career had to be “really dedicated and committed” as the work was low-paid and with people employed on short term contracts.

He said it was a “terrible” decision, but said one ray of sunshine was the Government exempting archaeology from 50 per cent cuts to creative and arts subjects.

BA History courses are being expanded at Hull to offer an optional module in archaeology.

A University of Hull spokesperson said: “The University continuously reviews its courses to ensure it meets the needs of students and employers.

“As part of this review, we stopped recruiting undergraduates for our BA History & Archaeology course in 2019, after a sustained period of decreased demand from prospective students.

“The final students on this course completed their studies this summer. We are now offering a new, expanded History provision at the University, which provides integrated opportunities for students to pursue their interests and passions, including in archaeology, while gaining a broad historical context and key employability skills.”