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Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology Short Courses

With the current subject specialist coordinator leaving to take up another post, Glasgow University Short Courses has put the Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology programme on hold for the 2022/23 academic year. In addition, there are no plans to replace the subject specialist coordinator post so that the programme can continue. So, whether courses will indeed run again, when, in what form, within what structure… is unknown.

Together, the subject co-ordinator post, the specialist tutors who delivered the individual courses within the programme, and the student body who did these courses, combined into an important Scottish hub for these subjects. For now, that hub of expertise that’s been together for so long, well it’s pretty much all gone, or at least has developed a very sudden and alarming chasm!

Within the programme, as I would have described it a few weeks ago, there is specialism in Egyptology, but also a strong range of Classics (civilisation and language) courses, Ancient Near East courses, and other Archaeology courses. The Egyptology options (civilisation and language) in particular are superb.

The programme forms a mechanism by which like-minded individuals for whom traditional mode of full-time university attendance is either not an option or not wished for can gather together to study locally with very high quality courses available to them (delivered daytime, evenings, and asynchronously). Or at least it did.

Individuals who are able to do full-time study in any of these subject areas are an utterly tiny minority of the population. The hub within Short Courses has been a route for everyone else to study what they wish to explore and enjoy, for pleasure or very seriously indeed, in a way that could be made fit into their surrounding lives, commitments and finances, and done locally within Scotland. Folk could do as many courses, or as little, as they wished, in a flexible manner, and choose whether to do the assessment options for credit or not.

Where do all those people go to find and connect with like-minded individuals physically near them if there’s nowhere they can access a concentration of excellent courses in a flexible and affordable manner anymore? Yes, there are other options to access non-university courses, online courses, and specific lectures through local societies from the likes of CAS to Egyptology Scotland etc.

But to know about all of these, what’s available, and how to access them in the first place in itself requires a lot of contextual knowledge about how these subjects operate. That also doesn’t help those who want to be able to continue to build up academic qualifications in these subjects locally, as various do.

What happens to all that associated expertise (from tutors to the students) if the mechanism that brought it together, combined it, encouraged it, gave it a Scottish centre, no longer exists? What happens to the folk who taught on it and relied on the income it brought in to help them pay bills, expenses, fund research, continue their work? What happens to the community that formed around it?

In the days before the pandemic, people travelled long distances in the dark weekly to attend these Glasgow courses, some even stayed overnight. In the zoom days, suddenly classes have been enhanced by very non-locals, with classmates from all sorts of corners of the world and time-zones.

The hub within Short Courses for our subjects has operated as the main centre of expertise and engine for accessible courses for a lot of people. It gave a natural centre to things, definition, a place to gather round, and talk, and share and research.

Scotland is small, subject experts in many ancient civilisations and languages are very rare on the ground here, and incredibly precious where they deliver accessible courses that aren’t just limited to people on x degree programme full-time. Scotland needs its people who are interested in and care about all of these things. If those people stop, or do other things, or drift away to do them elsewhere in other centres, then these subject areas in Scotland will be far worse for it.

The people who make up the regular students enrolled on these courses at Glasgow are a community. Many have been doing these courses continually for a decade or more with each other, so they become old friends. People go to the same classes. But they also go out to lunch, to events, catsit each other’s pets, go on holiday together to the places they study, get to know each other’s families. Some do ‘short’ courses in Egyptology, Classics and Archaeology for so long and so continuously that we simply outlive the lifespan of entire university buildings in the end.

‘Short courses’ does not necessarily mean simply short-term or one-off or finite, for the regulars it can be continuous, important, and a key part of life.

As to who does the courses as students, there’s a fairly wide range. A lot of teachers and lecturers of various hues, a smattering of museums folk, but also people who work in all kinds of totally non-related and non-connected jobs subject-wise, or who have significant caring or family responsibilities, are retired, or have other kinds of constraints on their time or ability to do certain things. For those whose income is below a certain threshold, they could apply for government funding to cover course fees as long as they completed them and submitted the assessments.

Short courses also offered a range of options to combine credit courses, at various levels, to gain Certificate, and then Diploma of Higher Education in Egyptology. At one point there was certainly a Classics Certificate too. I remember, I did it, before I then did the Egyptology Diploma. Attending part-time it takes a good number of years for most students to build up the credits required in the correct configurations to attain these qualifications for those wishing to do so. If the courses that make up those qualifications are no longer on offer, then those students still working towards them over several years will not be able to complete them.

There’s also a core of students who have always wanted the next level up to exist as an option – a degree. That structure simply did not exist through a Short Courses route. However, people could do access courses into the ‘mainstream’ university degree programmes for some subject areas (Classics, Archaeology, there is no standalone Egyptology degree offered anywhere in Scotland) or apply for subject degree courses direct at Glasgow or elsewhere using the qualifications built up through Short Courses.

Full-time mainstream students also did Short Courses as options to increase their knowledge, skills and expertise related to their own degrees, or just out of interest. The subjects offered by Short Courses could also be taught specifically for those students (e.g. as part of the Ancient Worlds Masters optional modules at Glasgow University).

The expertise, subject knowledge, and research of the tutors is also regularly called upon and acknowledged outwith the University, and internationally in some instances, in a wide variety of ways.

Glasgow Short Courses has been a centre of academic excellence for Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology as long as I’ve been there. It’s just one that doesn’t exist within a mainstream full-time university subject area department structure. It’s been uniquely accessible in result.

Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology within Short Courses is a very real credit to the university, and one which could be rescued, further strengthened and developed, and continue to attract and retains students and tutors over long time periods. These are all beneficial things.

I would encourage expressions of support to Short Courses for the continuation of the programme, with the appointment of a dedicated replacement subject specialist co-ordinator to oversee these subjects together as a whole, ably supported by the expert subject tutors once again.

Because good really accessible courses in Scotland in these subject areas that are cared for and looked after really does matter.

If you happen to agree, the people to write to in support are:

External relations at Glasgow University

Dr Neil Croll

Head of Widening Participation (External Relations)

Mrs Mary Johnston

Director of Business Support (External Relations)

Isabel Hood works full-time for the NHS in Glasgow, has been a student at Short Courses since 2009, and is also a student on the part-time online Ancient Worlds Masters at Edinburgh University.

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