Classics Excellence Scholarship at Royal Holloway, University of London

The Department of Classics and Philosophy is pleased to announce their new “Classics Excellence Scholarship”. The Scholarship will be awarded to a student entering in September 2012 to study full time Single Honours BA degrees in ClassicsClassical StudiesAncient History, Latin or Greek, and covers full Home/EU fees for three years of undergraduate study at RHUL (under the new £9,000 fees regime).
The award will be offered to an exceptional student. As part of the application candidates will be asked to submit a statement explaining their skills, interests, and what they can bring to the department, and to provide a supporting reference. Full details are available at

classics excellence scholarship

The deadline for applications is 30 March, 2012.

The “Classics Excellence Scholarship” is made possible by a generous gift from “a grateful parent”, who wishes to remain anonymous, in recognition of the “wonderful experience and support” their child had received as a student in the Classics and Philosophy Department at Royal Holloway.


If you are a JACT member you will be aware of this and hopefully will have already taken action.
Because of financial constraints the Classics department at Leeds is considering cutting its straight language degree courses in Latin and Greek in order to ensure its survival as a department still able to provide courses and research opportunities in Classical Civilisation. Furthermore the university authorities are considering the closure of the whole department, thus ending more than 100 years of Classics education in the city. The university is committed to seeing all students who start a course in September 2010 through to the end of their degree, and this assurance stands good for the 2010 intake on the language programmes too.
For more details see the Classics@Leeds blog at
Above all please sign the petition at

Oxbridge interviews: real advice from a real don

The Times blogs

This week marks the start of the Oxbridge interview season. I’ve been watching with interest from the USA as newspapers
peddle advice to anxious applicants and their parents about how they
might best get through the ordeal – and especially  about how to deal
with all those weird questions that we dons do like to devise to trip
up the poor candidates.

More often than not, the information is being fed to the press by Oxbridge Application Advisory Companies, which make their money out of increasing the Oxbridge mystique, then claiming to offer a way through the applications jungle.

Feel some sympathy for Oxford and Cambridge, please. While we do our
best to de-mystify the process and explain why interviews are useful
(can you think of a better way of distinguishing two
students, both with 10 A*s at GCSE and predicted for As at A level?),
other people have a financial stake in making it all seem as
complicated as possible.

One company is charging £950 for an Interview Preparation Weekend,
which is just one small part of the “Premier Service” (covering
everything advice on your personal statement to 14 hours personal
tuition to promote independent thinking), for which they don’t even
quote a price on the web; you have to phone, which I haven’t.  I cant
imagine the price is far short of the just over £3000 annual fees for
being  taught at Cambridge. To be fair to this company, you can apply for their Access Scheme,
a much shorter version, if you receive Educational Maintenance
Allowance – though how many people are given this is not clear. Perhaps
it depends on how many spare places they have once the fee payers have
paid their fees.

So what is my advice?

OK, I can’t speak for science subjects, but for humanities – three things.

First don’t worry about the weird questions. We don’t sit round each
year and dream them up over the port (port – another myth, for the most
part). “I know Humphrey, why don’t we ask them if they can imagine what
it was like being a strawberry…That’ll sort the sheep from the goats,

If the questions sound a bit unexpected, that is what they are meant
to be. It’s partly to prevent people being drilled in the “right
answer” at ambitious schools or on those fee-paying courses. So don’t
be misled by all those people who try to tell you that what “they” are
really after when they ask you “how does Geography relate to Midsummer
Night’s Dream” (“a wonderful chance to show you can adopt an
interdisciplinary approach”). It really isn’t like that. Worse still,
don’t try to second guess what the agenda is. Engage in the
conversation, trusting that the person asking the question is trying to
get the best out of you.

Second, ask yourself: what would I be looking for in an
applicant for this subject to this university? The application process
isn’t rocket science. If someone asks you what you have read about your
chosen subject outside of your A level syllabus, and you say “Nothing”,
it’s not a great start. Arts courses at Oxbridge demand huge amounts of
reading and an engagement with the written word. Be able to talk about
something you have read, independently, that has engaged you, whether
it’s a battered 1950s text book you found in the chuck out pile at the
school library, or a 3 for 2 offer at W H Smiths.

Third, don’t put your faith in profit-making companies that promise
to help you ‘get in’, and claim that they have advice from sources
close to the mysterious decision making. (Sorry – if you already have
shelled out vast amounts of money, it probably hasn’t actually done you
any harm, but there might have been better ways of spending your
money!). No-one I know who is really close to the admissions process
would sell themselves to a private company.

I took a look at the “Advisory Board
of one of these organisations. The descriptions were strictly accurate,
but still gave a misleading impression of intimacy with the system. One
of the advisers was described as “a Former schoolteacher fellow of
Magdalene, Cambridge specializing in admissions”. OK , but
“schoolteacher fellows” are teachers who come to a college for a term,
on sabbatical from a school. They may have an interest in admissions,
but they have nothing at all directly to do with them. Another had been
involved in admissions in a ‘Permanent Private Hall” at Oxford (which
is not quite the same as a college). Another was an interesting
cultural theorist – who most likely had once been involved in
admissions at a post-graduate college at Oxford, but I couldn’t
discover which exactly (Google was a bit unclear on this).

Why not instead take advantage of what is available outside the commercial sector? The Sutton Trust
arranges courses with an eye to Oxbridge and to other top rank
universities (Oxbridge isn’t the be all and end all). A friendly
teacher can almost certainly help to get you a practice interview (and
honestly, you don’t need a whole weekend of it).

In fact, the Cambridge website gives you an example of what an interview is like; and it’s made by those who REALLY know. I’d start there.

How to get into Cambridge

A snippet from the Sunday Times on admissions to Oxford and Cambridge. Note the final sentence:

Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge, denied the university was failing to give due credit to state school applicants.

“The best independent schools are stretching their most able pupils,” he said. “There are ways in which state-school pupils are not as well guided as applicants from independent schools. State schools have had to deal with a shortage of qualified maths and physics teachers. They have also been dropping languages.”

To get a First Class Degree, go to a new university

Apologies for the tabloid-style misrepresentation of the facts in my headline! I haven't seen any breakdown of Classics degree statistics. It's mostly about Science. But has a Cambridge degree, for instance, not always been more highly regarded than one from Little Trumpton University College? If the next step is to insist that employers disregard the university and consider only the class of degree, we are entering the realms of fantasy.

Better results for less work at the new universities
By Alexandra Blair, Education Correspondent

UNDERGRADUATES who study for as little as 20 hours a week are more likely to be awarded a first-class degree at a newer university than those at older institutions, a survey says.

Scientists at Cambridge have to work 45 hours a week to obtain a top-class degree; those studying physics and chemistry at the University of Central Lancashire have to study 19 hours a week for a 2:1 or a first.

The Higher Education Policy Institute survey of 15,000 first-year and second-year undergraduates questions the true value of a degree, showing that some students work far harder than others, depending on the subject. Although tuition fees are now paid upfront in a loan by the Government, graduates must pay them off once they earn £15,000. Banks estimate that by 2009 a student’s debt will be approaching £30,000, which most will be paying off until their mid-thirties.

The survey, published today, shows that while, on average, students claim to be working 25.7 hours a week in lectures, seminars or private study, medics and dentists are apparently working ten hours a week more. Overall the study shows that undergraduates on courses in mass communications put in five hours fewer than the average each week.

The differences were more pronounced between subjects than between different universities, although those at older universities studied more.

Bahram Bekhradnia, of the institute, said: “If students are putting 32 hours a week into engineering and 21 hours a week into business studies, is a degree telling you the same thing about the universities and the experience the students have had? You can get a 2:1 with different amounts of effort.”

The authors say: “This report does not prove that the degree classification system is flawed, but it certainly raises questions that need to be addressed.” They note that 60.9 per cent of students of physical sciences at Plymouth University receive a 2:1 or first-class degree for working 20 hours a week.

At Cambridge, where students may have twice the A-level points, they work 45 hours a week for the same class of degree.

About half of students were disappointed by some aspect of university — mostly with the quality of teaching. Nearly 30 per cent of overseas students — who pay much higher fees than British and other EU students — said that their university experience did not represent value for money.

Drummond Bone, of the vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK, said: “There is no national curriculum in higher education, and so we should not be surprised that different courses at different institutions involve different use of facilities, contact hours and so on.”

What did the Romans wear under their togas?

Mary Beard again. Although the title sounds exclusively Classical, the piece is about the entrance interview at Cambridge. Worth reading, for any teacher advising Oxbridge hopefuls.

'Crunchy A levels please' – Cambridge University

The Times reports a universities' preference for real A levels:
Students told to ditch 'soft option' A levels

By Alexandra Blair, Education Correspondent

LEADING universities are warning teenagers that they will not gain admission if they study “soft” A levels in the sixth form.

The universities are insisting that pupils take traditional subjects if they want to be considered for degree courses. Those applying with A levels in subjects such as media studies or health and social care would rule themselves out.

Up to one in six students took A levels this summer in at least one of 20 subjects listed by Cambridge as “less effective preparation” for entry. In what will come as a surprise to some schools and students, the list includes business studies, information and communication studies, and design and technology.

The move to spell out “unacceptable” A levels emerged after the pass rate rose for the 24th successive year to a record 96.6 per cent. The rise in the proportion of A grades awarded was the second largest in 40 years.

In a backlash against the growing popularity of subjects such as sports studies, and tourism and dance, institutions such as Cambridge, the LSE and Manchester are telling applicants to concentrate on the more academic A levels.

Admissions tutors insist that a lower grade in an academic subject, such as history or mathematics, will be of more use than a high grade in an apparently easier alternative. However, they believe that thousands of working-class pupils are losing out when they choose their A-level courses, because schools are failing to give them the best guidance. The proportion of state school pupils and those from low-income families attending university dropped to its lowest level for three years in 2004-05.

Tomorrow more than 700,000 teenagers will receive their GCSE results. Cambridge has posted a notice on its website telling youngsters: “Your choice of AS and A-level subjects can have a significant impact on the course options available to you at university.

University Classics Departments assessed 2006

The Guardian league tables put university Classics departments in an order based on 7 criteria, including amount spent per pupil and inclusiveness.

The newspaper then gives each university department an overall percentage. The full lists can be found by entering 'Classics' and a tariff band number here. I have had to extract the Classics assessments from the various tariff bands into which each university as a whole is placed. Classics departments do not necessarily come in the same order of achievement as their university tariffs as a whole. For instance, Cambridge and Oxford are in the top band both for overall tariffs and for Classics excellence in particular, but Roehampton University is listed by itself in the lowest tariff band (of those universities that offer Classics) and yet its Classics department outperforms several of the universities with higher A level result tariffs.

Sorry, I'm making it all seem very complicated. I hope the following list from the Guardian's league tables will be helpful. The usual caveats about statistics in general and league tables in particular apply.

  1. Cambridge 97.00
  2. Oxford 90.63
  3. UCL 86.07
  4. Warwick 84.23
  5. St Andrews 79.67
  6. King's College London 79.60
  7. Leeds 78.63
  8. Exeter 78.57
  9. Royal Holloway and Bedford New College 78.23
  10. Manchester 76.70
  11. Edinburgh 76.40
  12. Bristol 75.97
  13. Nottingham 71.90
  14. Reading 71.53
  15. Birmingham 69.83
  16. Kent 69.07
  17. Glasgow 68.73
  18. Roehampton 67.33
  19. Durham 64.93
  20. Liverpool 63.53
  21. Swansea 61.83
  22. Newcastle upon Tyne 55.83
  23. Lampeter 54.83

Nice one, Royal Holloway!

This year's ARLT Summer School was held at Royal Holloway, which I had never visited before.

I was impressed. I picked up a copy of Quid Novi?, the four page brochure for schools, and liked the Editorial with its robust defence of the Classics and its news of expansion in the department. I hope that Royal Holloway won't mind my reproducing it here.

Education, education, education:

Three years running a Classics Department

A former Secretary of State for the present government claimed not to be exercised by Classics. Classics, we are told, is of no use in the market place. Train the students for the modern world. What use is a degree in Classics? In the market-driven world of education, Classics booms nationally. In our Department, we have watched undergraduate numbers almost triple in three years. MA applications are higher than ever and we hope for at least twice as many students as three years ago. Research student numbers grow steadily and now stand at more than 25. The number of academic staff has risen from 10 three years ago to 13 or 14 by the end of this year. We have two new Research Assistants, soon to be three. Funding bodies have given us £800,000 in grants for numerous research projects. Why is this? Hollywood has caught Classics and Gladiator has been followed by Alexander, by Troy, Alexander will come again, and Hannibal threatens the Alps.

But a degree in Classics is not entertainment. Let me bore you with my theory. In a world which changes so fast, no-one can predict the skills and knowledge that will prove crucial to our lives. But we look for solid virtues, to the skills necessary to understand a world that has influenced ours, but was so different. Our students learn to read critically, to analyse, to view our world differently, but also to understand those who viewed the world in a different way. In my three years as Head of Department, my greatest pleasure has been helping our students develop those skills and understand better the world around them. This is not training, but education, and if education really was valued, then the virtues of Classics would be being sung from the rooftops of every education centre in the land.

Richard Alston

The Classics department web site has a good page of information for schools (but hey there, webmaster, it needs updating please!), and a pdf version of a 12 page booklet with big photos and lots of information on applying.

By the way, the web site says that there are still places for this October, with a requirement of ABB.

"a bunch of grasping, meddling, money-grabbing young men,"

There are people ready to advise your students on how to get into the best university, apparently. It's big in America, and it is probably coming here. The quotation above is from Anthony Smith, the president of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Read the Guardian on the subject here.