British Archaeology In Fight for Survival

British archaeology is in a fight for survival  [Abstrct]

Mary Shepperson,  Tuesday 20 June 2017.

The first University Archaeology Day marks a point of crisis in British archaeology. As student applications fall, threatening university departments with cuts, commercial demand for archaeologists is soaring, leaving a looming skills shortage.   Archaeology is a great subject to take at university. Why then are fewer and fewer students applying to study it?

On 22 June, the first ever University Archaeology Day will be hosted by University College London. The intention is to paint an inspiring picture of archaeology as an exciting field of study leading to a hearty spread of career opportunities, but University Archaeology Day is also a response to a growing crisis in UK archaeology, both for university departments and for the commercial sector. This crisis is likely to have repercussions well beyond the world of academia.

Archaeology is a great subject to take at university; it brings together a mix of humanities and sciences, and combines social theory, critical thinking and hard practical skills. Adventure abounds, both intellectual and actual. Why then are fewer and fewer students applying to study it? This is the question plaguing beleaguered archaeology departments across the UK which are seeing student numbers drop year on year.

The problem boils down to a combination of perceptions and financial factors. The drop in student numbers began after the 2008 financial crisis but has been exacerbated by the hike in tuition fees and the withdrawal of student loans for second degrees. Unlike earlier generations who saw university as more of a chance to experience and explore, students now increasingly see university as a financial investment which needs a decent prospect of financial reward to make sense. Subjects like archaeology, which don’t obviously lead to well paid careers, have suffered the consequences of this more hard-nosed attitude towards education. The scrapping of A-level archaeology last year is both symptom and cause of the declining profile of the subject among students.

Archaeology is more sensitive to falling student numbers than most subjects. The need for laboratory work and the requirement for a range of practical training makes archaeology an expensive subject to teach. However, archaeology is not classed as a STEM subject (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) or as a SIVS (Strategically Important Vulnerable Subject) which are favoured by government funding and admissions policies. This means that archaeology courses rapidly become uneconomic for universities if course places aren’t filled.

So why should all this be of concern? If students don’t want to study archaeology, the subject isn’t economic and the government doesn’t consider it important enough to protect, why shouldn’t it be allowed to die back in universities? Well, in addition to the loss of the UK’s position at the forefront of international archaeological research, there’s an increasingly desperate shortage of archaeologists in the UK.

Archaeology is part of the process of planning and construction, with UK developers required to pay for any archaeological work which might be necessary. The recent surge in house building is already stretching commercial archaeology units to their staffing limits and it’s hard to see how planned major infrastructure projects, such as HS2 and a third runway for Heathrow, can be managed as things stand. A recent report by Historic England estimates that the UK will need between 25% and 64% more archaeologists by 2033 to meet commercial demand. Brexit has the potential to make the situation even worse as many archaeology units are now heavily reliant on EU nationals.

It might seem curious under these circumstances that students aren’t more attracted to archaeology as a career when there are so many unfilled commercial vacancies crying out for graduates. The problem is that up until now commercial archaeology has been mostly quite horrible.  Pay and conditions in commercial archaeology are frankly appalling for a skilled graduate profession. A new graduate can’t expect more than £16,000 – £18,000 p.a., and even a senior supervisor or project officer doesn’t earn much more than £25,000, including for jobs based in London and the southeast.

In return, a commercial archaeologist is expected to do a heavy physical job in all (British) weather. Job security is poor; permanent positions don’t come easily and many archaeologists are employed on a project-by-project basis. Traditionally, most young archaeologists don’t stay in commercial archaeology for more than a year or two before escaping to another part of the heritage industry or by transferring their many skills to a more lucrative career – by which I mean almost any other career

However, commercial archaeology is finally starting to respond to the looming skills shortage. In 2014 the Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) managed to get a Royal Charter for the profession, which will hopefully begin the process of elevating archaeology away from its traditional amateurish image of bearded enthusiasts in funny jumpers towards a more serious professional ethos. A host of new training initiatives have been launched, mostly as collaborations between universities, commercial units and the CIfA, aiming to improve skill sets, raise standards and encourage people into the profession.

Between the shortage of trained archaeologists and the renewed efforts by the commercial sector to improve the lot of archaeology as a profession, it seems likely that pay and conditions will have to improve, especially if developers want their housing estates, runways and high speed rail lines delivered on time. In fact, there might never have been a better time to get into archaeology; that’s if there are university departments left to train at.

Further reading: British Academy’s Reflections on Archaeology Report

Tories and Labour Not Being Honest With Voters

Tories and Labour not being honest with voters: IFS  [Abrided].

By Chris Johnston, May 26 2017.

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour are being honest with voters about the economic consequences of their policy proposals, an influential think tank has warned.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said the Tories had very few tax or spending commitments in their manifesto.

Labour, in contrast, was proposing very big increases in tax and spending.  However, the IFS said Labour’s plans for paying for its proposed expansion in state activity would not work.

IFS deputy director Carl Emmerson said neither manifesto gave voters an honest set of choices or addressed the long-term challenges the UK faced.

“For Labour, we can have pretty much everything – free higher education, free childcare, more spending on pay, health, infrastructure. And the pretence is that can all be funded by faceless corporations and ‘the rich’,” he said.

“There is a choice we can make as a country to have a bigger state – that would not make us unusual in international terms. But that comes at a cost in higher taxes, which would inevitably need to be borne by large numbers of us.”

Meanwhile, the Conservatives offered spending cuts the party had already promised, Mr Emmerson said.  “Additional funding pledges for the NHS and schools are just confirming that spending would rise in a way broadly consistent with the March Budget,” he told a briefing in London on Friday.

“Compared with Labour, they are offering a relatively smaller state and consequently lower taxes. With that offer come unacknowledged risks to the quality of public services, and tough choices over spending.”

The IFS said the Tory plans “imply at least another five years of austerity, with the continuation of planned welfare cuts and serious pressures on the public services including on the NHS”.

Labour’s calculations that £49bn a year could be raised from the wealthiest individuals and companies were flawed and would raise £40bn at most in the short term, and less in the long term, it said.

Week Ending March 14th

Thursday, March 12th.  My daughter – a primary school teacher, had asked be if I would give a talk to her class on 18-19th century smuggling in Sussex, they currently doing a local history project on it.  I duly put together a talk for her Year 4 pupils only to then be told that now the whole year was going to attend.  Today, the appointed day arrived and it went off very well, they being attentive and asking a lot of questions afterwards.  I sensed there was a warm, friendly atmosphere in the school; I also felt very proud of my daughter.  School’s so very different from my day!

Friday, March 13th.  Today we gathered in the four ponies on Lane End Common at Chailey, there being little left for them to eat and one pony was losing body condition.   Commenced feeding the remaining 14 ponies on Red house Common; they will move to the un-fenced common when the road signs are in place.  Later, we erected 800m of electric fencing on the National Trust’s Frog Firle property in readiness to move 11 ponies on to the steep Hindover Hill.

The Cuckmere valley still looks very wet – we being lucky for the water level had dropped sufficiently to drive along beneath Hindover to carry out the fencing.  The problem I believe, is that the outfall flaps along the riverbank were when installed in the late 50’s, installed too low.  They silt-up easily and require regular maintenance and now presumably with the EA’s cut-backs, they’re not being kept operational?

Britain needs Chinese Approach to Climate Change

Britain needs ‘Chinese’ Approach to Climate Change.

By Alex Stevenson     Wednesday, 13 August 2014.

China is showing a “leadership” on climate change which the UK is lacking, the chair of an influential Commons committee has told Environmental audit committee chair Joan Walley said the Chinese government had a “set of plans and the ability to deliver them” – in contrast to David Cameron’s government, which she accused of paying “lip service” to the decarbonisation agenda.

Her comments came after the latest Ipsos Mori Global Trends survey revealed British people’s appreciation of the need to act on climate change is among the worst of the 20 countries surveyed.

Fifty-eight per cent of British respondents agreed with the statement that ‘we are heading for environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly’. Only Japan and the US had a lower percentage, while China topped the poll with 91.1% agreeing.

Walley said the Climate Change Act, which has legislated to ensure Britain cuts its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, meant the UK had the long-term framework to tackle climate change. But she criticised the government for failing to demonstrate a commitment to pursuing the target, blaming the short-termism of the five-year electoral cycle. “We haven’t got leadership in terms of dealing with this,” Walley said.

“Whatever’s China’s position on the world stage in respect of international negotiations on climate change, what they have got is a very clear robust set of five-year plans and the ability to deliver them.”

When asked by Ipsos Mori whether they agreed with the statement that ‘the climate change we are currently seeing is largely the result of human activity’, only 54% of Britons agreed. Thirty-two per cent disagreed. This contrasted with seven countries, including France, Spain and Italy, which saw at least four out of five agreeing that humans are to blame for climate change.

Britain’s apparent climate scepticism was reinforced by its position in the table of answers to the statement that ‘the climate change we are currently seeing is a natural phenomenon that happens from time to time”.

Forty-eight per cent of Brits agreed with this statement, compared to just 22% of people in Japan, 34% in Sweden and 39% in Germany.

Britain’s latest equivalent of a five-year plan – its fourth carbon budget – has been undermined by the government’s decision to delay confirming it until the last day before the summer recess. That foot-dragging – branded “bad for business, consumers and the UK’s energy security alike” by WWF-UK – sums up Britain’s problem, Walley suggested.

“When all the time you’re faced with the day-to-day emergencies, policymaking becomes about the short-term. We need to fix that in the government and in the City. At the moment we haven’t got a mechanism for factoring in transitional costs which will balance out in time. You can see it’s not just right for the environment, but economically and competitively as well.”

Walley said the government’s failure to embrace climate change was behind British voters’ relative indifference towards the issue. Could the government do even more to raise awareness of climate change?

Her theory has been reinforced by research from Washington DC think-tank the Worldwatch Institute, which has criticised the ‘eco-literacy’ agenda of addressing the knowledge gap instead of the issue it believes is the real problem – the ‘behaviour deficit’.

“Knowing that change is needed is clearly not enough to motivate it in most human behaviour,” contributing author Monty Hempel said.

“Individuals must have a sense of urgency and personal control over prospective outcomes and goal achievement before they will commit to meaningful action or new behaviours.”

Worldwatch’s radical claim is that around the world there are “growing political pressures to replace a barely functioning democracy with something closer to technocratic oligarchy”.

But Walley hopes that western democracies can cope by embedding sustainability education into the national curriculum. She also wants to co-opt local authorities into the fourth carbon budget in order to allow accelerated changes in areas which are more environmentally-minded than others.

“Electorate that values these things may well sign up to it,” she added, “but we need it right the way across the country”.

Natural History Must Reclaim its Place in Society

March 26, 2014

Source: American Institute of Biological Sciences

Summary:  Scientists argue that the study of natural history has waned in recent decades in developed countries. Declining course requirements and support for herbaria are among the documented evidence. Yet costly mistakes in policy relating to natural resources, agriculture, and health might have been avoided by paying attention to organisms’ natural history, and future policies will be improved if natural history knowledge is used and expanded. New technologies offer ways to increase natural history research partnerships.

Support in developed countries for natural history, the study of the fundamental nature of organisms and how and where they live and interact with their environment, appears to be in steep decline. Yet natural history provides essential knowledge for fields as varied as human health, food security, conservation, land management, and recreation. In the April issue of BioScience, a group of scientists from institutions across North America details examples supporting their conviction that a re-vitalization of the practice of natural history will provide important benefits for science and society.

The 17-member group of authors, convened by Joshua J. Tewksbury of the University of Washington and the World Wide Fund for Nature’s International office, notes that 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases of humans, including avian influenza, Lyme disease, cholera, and rabies, are linked to other animals at some point in their life cycle. Control strategies rely on knowledge of these hosts’ natural history.

Sustainable agricultural practices, such as companion planting, crop rotation, and pest control, likewise rely on knowledge of natural history, much of which was however, discarded with the Green Revolution. Effective fisheries management relies on natural history; disasters such as the collapse of the Bering Sea wall-eye pollock fishery might have been avoided had it been used sooner. Rigorous forest fire suppression in the western United States during much of the twentieth century was another costly mistake that might have ended sooner if natural history knowledge had been used earlier. And recreational hunting and fishing have often benefited when interest groups applied knowledge of natural history and suffered when it was ignored.

Despite this, natural history collections are not expanding, and the number of active herbaria has declined since 1990 in Europe and North America. The majority of US schools now have no natural history requirements for a biology degree, a trend that has coincided with the rise of molecular, experimental, theoretical, and other forms of biology. These types of biology may be less expensive or be more likely to attract large grants and public recognition. The stagnation could also reflect more general public disengagement with nature in developed countries.

Although biological modelling has become more sophisticated, Tewksbury and his co-authors note that models must be built on field observations to usefully represent the real world. The important influence of microbes on human health and plants is a key new frontier in natural history research, the authors believe. And they see hope for the discipline, both within and outside of traditional natural history collections, in the rise of Internet and smart phone-based technologies that allow the growth of broad partnerships, including citizen-science initiatives. Such linkages are starting to develop, but will need established professionals to self-identify as natural historians to provide the leadership needed for natural history to reclaim its necessary role, the authors assert.

Take The Carrot Or, Risk The Stick?

Mike Clarke from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) speaking about the recent CAP reforms said: “The deal falls short of what nature needs. The Government has made its job of meeting its own environmental commitments harder. The RSPB did say though that the Government had planted the seeds for recovery of some threatened species.” (The coalition Government decided to reject the Secretary of State for the Environment’s recommendation of a full 15% rate of payment for the CAP (and go for 12% instead) after lobbying by the NFU and rural Conservative MP’s).

One could repeat a number of such quotes from wildlife organisations, all written in a similar vein with no anger, no passion. But these organisations are caught in a cleft-stick situation; should they be grateful for half measures? Should they shout from the rooftops, about the huge losses that wildlife (and the environment) has suffered over the past half century or so?  If they speak up and publicly challenge the coalition’s policies, do they risk the financial wroth of DEFRA and its now castrated puppet, Natural England? (I must qualify this last sentence in that I have found over the years that NE’s staff at the coalface, to be more than helpful and enthusiastic under the current hostile conditions that they now find themselves).

Professionals in the conservation movement and that significant proportion of the public that are sympathetic or aspire to a richer more attractive countryside, have got to find renewed zeal, passion and new ways of influencing this “greenest Government ever,” to change its hostile stance towards most things green. Longer term (excuse the pun), we need to raise the profile of wildlife and the environment within this countries’ education system, so that following generations are much better informed on such issues.

One way in which the Government could redirect their (our) limited monies would be to analyse the benefits currently being delivered under the Entry Level Scheme (ELS) part of their agri-environment scheme and transfer it to the Higher Level Scheme (HLS).  ELS seems to me, like money for old rope – something of an easy cop-out for farmers. HLS on the other hand, does seem to generally deliver real benefits to our beleaguered countryside and the plants and animals that make it up, thus encouraging sympathetic landowners and managers.


New School Curriculum includes Climate Change but not Sustainability.

Following campaigning by WWF and others, education secretary Michael Gove announced today that climate change will be reinstated in the geography national curriculum at Key Stage 3 (age 11-14) in schools in England. But even though Michael Gove has listened to the headline demands on climate change, he has weakened the overall school curriculum when it comes to sustainable development. This government once pledged to be the greenest yet (something of a joke now!), but that message doesn’t seem to have reached the education department.

Of particular concern is the lack of coverage of sustainability and climate change in the primary curriculum. Even at a young age, children have a right to the skills, understanding and knowledge they need for a sustainable future. At secondary level, students will only be required to learn the facts about how people are causing climate change. Missing is the broader understanding and debate about sustainable interaction with the environment on which we all depend. There is no longer any reference to sustainable development in any part or stage of the curriculum.

This contrasts with the previous curriculum, which included as an overall aim to ‘develop their [pupilsí] awareness and understanding of, and respect for, the environments in which they live, and secure their commitment to sustainable development at a personal, national and global level.’ If government won’t show leadership around the sustainability agenda in schools, it will be up to schools themselves to take up the challenge. Fortunately, there are schools out there doing just that, using the greater flexibility offered by the slimmed-down core curriculum.

(From WWF, July 8 2013).