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Birmingham denies plans to close archaeology department

The University of Birmingham is denying claims by the University and College Union that it is planning to close its award-winning Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity with the loss of 19 jobs.

The university acknowledges that the future of the department is under review. This process began in February and was intended “to identify areas where action might be needed to support an uplift in quality, sustainability and/or the capacity to compete with other universities in an increasingly competitive market”.

A university statement said, “The review panel has now presented its initial recommendations and a 90 day consultation period with staff and students within the IAA has commenced. During this consultation period it is not appropriate for the University to speculate on the final outcomes.”

But the union believes a decision has already been made.

UCU regional official, Martin Machon, said, “The University of Birmingham’s Institute for Archaeology and Antiquity is internationally renowned for its work and has played a leading role in recent Stonehenge discoveries and other high-profile projects. Closing this award-winning department and sacking staff will seriously damage the UK’s proud reputation as a leading light in archaeology.

“The university has failed to explain properly to staff why the institute, given its fantastic track record, is facing the axe,” he added.

However, the university maintains that while there will be changes, there are no plans to close the department.

The university authorities insist that Birmingham also remains committed to maintaining world-leading archaeological expertise. It acknowledges that there are plans to relocate its department of classics within the School of History and Cultures to form a department of Classics and Ancient History.

Their statement cites recent initiatives that demonstrate the university’s continued support for archaeology. These include the appointment of a director at its Ironbridge Institute, and the setting up of the Heritage and Cultural Learning Hub (co-led by an archaeologist) with significant new investment.

The university has also invested in establishing the Eton-Myers virtual museum and has created a Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, the only research centre in the UK which brings these subjects together within a single unit.

The IAA has been involved in a number of important projects, including excavations at the site of Shakespeare’s last home and the 2009 discovery in Staffordshire of the largest-ever collection of Anglo-Saxon gold coins.

In 2007 it was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its use of technology to create detailed maps of the former Roman town of Wroxeter.