SPMA response to the closure of the archaeology department at the University of Worcester

Wednesday 25 August 2021

Dear Professor Green,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology (SPMA) – Europe’s leading professional society for the archaeology of the modern world – to express our concerns over the recently announced decision to close the University of Worcester’s archaeology department on the basis of a ‘declining interest in studying archaeology’.

SPMA believes that this decision should be revisited.  Archaeology forms a key part of the development process, with archaeological intervention often required before infrastructure development.  However, the UK government also currently lists archaeology as a skills shortage occupation eligible for high-priority skills shortage visas.  Furthermore, archaeology has been removed from the recent list of arts courses subject to a 50% cut in subsidy funding, and has been reprioritised by the Department for Education so as (quoting a DfE spokesperson) “to target taxpayers’ money towards subjects that support the NHS, science, technology and engineering, and the specific needs of the labour market including archaeology which is vital to key industries such as construction and transport”.

Given the archaeology skills shortage and the government’s prioritisation of archaeology alongside STEM courses, we believe that the higher education sector’s response to this skills crisis should be to strengthen archaeology and archaeological training rather than to further contribute to the shortage by closing archaeology departments, or realigning a limited number of staff in other departments.

SPMA also believes that universities such as Worcester have a vital role to play in providing archaeological training.  If archaeology departments are reduced to a small number of Russell Group universities, then the range of people studying the discipline will likely narrow, and the number of people graduating with archaeology degrees will fall further.  This will only exacerbate the skills shortage.  We further note that Worcester’s archaeology department is particularly valuable to both the broader heritage sector and the university due to the following factors:

1) It has 100% student satisfaction rates and has consistently had top employability scores; these are both assets to the university.

2) It is one of the few widening participation programmes in the UK; this is an asset to both the university and to the heritage sector. If Worcester’s department closes, there will be no dedicated archaeology provision between Lincoln and Chester outside of the Russell Group; there will be no other widening participation opportunities in the West Midlands.

3) It contains local archaeological expertise from prehistory through to the modern period; this is an asset to the sector.  SPMA particularly values the recent work done in involving university students in the identification of later post-medieval ceramics, including the use of accurate and effective scientific techniques to identify different types of Worcester-made porcelain.

SPMA therefore urges the university to revisit the decision to close the archaeology department, and to continue to support training in a discipline with a government-recognised labour market shortage via a department that is an asset to both the university and the heritage sector.

Sincerely Yours

Dr Alasdair Brooks BA MA DPhil
President, Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology