Anna Davis, Education Correspondent
30 Sep 2011
Every classics course in the country will be at risk if a London university downgrades its department, campaigners warned today.
Heads of Royal Holloway, University of London, are proposing to merge the 125-year-old classics department with history.
The university was forced to abandon plans to scrap the classics degree entirely after a public outcry which saw Stephen Fry, Britain's best-known classicist Mary Beard and Mayor Boris Johnson pledging support for the department.
But campaigners say the watered-down proposals, which involve creating a new school of history and classics, will still damage classics teaching.
Professor Edith Hall from the classics department said: "I believe this is a tipping point for humanities in Britain. If this happens at Royal Holloway it can happen anywhere."
The university launched a consultation on the future of classics, saying the department made a loss and was not attracting enough students. Royal Holloway chiefs originally wanted to close the BA in classics and move lecturers into the history department.
They are now proposing to retain the undergraduate degree, but still join the departments into one "school". Four classics staff will be made redundant instead of six. It comes after the Government announced that funding for university arts courses will be cut, while tuition fees triple.
Professor Hall said: "The university has made some major concessions but the department is still losing its autonomy and being cut by half. This is what Mary Beard called 'death by 1,000 cuts'." Royal Holloway classics graduate Mario Creatura, 25, said: "There has been a partial U-turn and it is great they have recognised the importance of classics, but it is not good enough. We will lose our identity.
"The department is seen as one of the best in the world, and has been operating independently for more than 100 years.
"There is an argument that universities should be investing in subjects like science, technology, engineering and maths because in the short term they can boost the economy.
"But we are looking at the long term. If people don't study arts and humanities what would happen nationally?
"There is a reason why many politicians are arts, history, or philosophy, politics and economics graduates. Leaders study subjects where they have to think outside the box."
Boris Johnson said: "I believe fervently that a training in classics is one of the best, if not the best, that a young mind can have. It is a universal spanner for so many other languages, but it also gives young people access not just to London's Roman history, but to an understanding of world history.
"I want London to stay at the forefront of teaching and research in this area and Royal Holloway classics department is crucial to this."
A spokeswoman said the university will retain the classics degree because "the college is convinced by arguments that classics is a pivotal subject for the understanding of Western civilisation, an important part of the history of Bedford and Holloway College and has significant overlap with the modules taught within classical studies and ancient history."