Paul Middleton, Archaeology tutor at Peterborough Regional College, discusses some of the wide range of courses now available in archaeology.
Many mature students, having caught the archaeology bug, study at local colleges either to pursue a general interest or to achieve GCSE and A level qualifications. The recent initiative of the Society of Antiquaries to award an annual prize to the highest achieving student in each category is helping to raise the profile of much excellent archaeological provision throughout the country.
But what if you wish to take your studies further? Is it worth the effort and what course should you follow? The maze of courses, modules, certificates, diplomas, ordinary, combined and honours degrees can be mind-boggling to contemplate and can certainly be rather off-putting. Do not be deterred!
Why do you want to continue studying? If your intention is to change career, then you are bringing a number of skills with you and should try to maximise these in developing your career. This may affect the kind of course you choose – for instance, there are an increasing number of combined honours courses, where you study two or more subjects alongside each other (e.g. Computing and Archaeology). Archaeology students are employed in fields as diverse as accountancy, forensics and heritage centres, as well as digging and you should look carefully at the module/unit choices offered within each course to see how these fit your own preferences and background.
How long do you wish to study for? Higher National Diploma courses run for two years full time rather than the usual three year degree programme. After this you have a good qualification which will open up employment doors, or you can convert to a degree course, by studying further, usually for an extra two years. If you are content to take your time, or, indeed, are constrained by time commitments such as family responsibilities, then there are many part time study degrees, which allow you to spread your studies over several years. Flexibility is increasingly the watchword in HE, so always ask for options available.
Why qualifications? Since the 1980s, there has been a trend towards public funding being directed to courses, which delivered a qualification, rather than broad, liberal studies programmes. There are still many excellent non-examined courses available through local societies and adult education providers, such as the WEA. However, if you want the challenge and motivation of an exam and are looking to progress in the subject, perhaps with a career change in mind, then there is a range of qualification levels to choose from.
Which qualification? Archaeology is available as a GCSE course (GCSEs replaced O levels) and this is a good way back into study if it is some years since you studied. A levels are the natural next step, usually taking two years, and can now be split, since each year of study is examined, allowing the candidate to take a break if they wish or need to. You can enrol for GCSE and A level courses at a whole host of providing institutions: many are listed here, though do not be afraid to ask any College which boards validate the course and issue the certificate and ask them to guide you on course content. You will normally need at least one A level, but Universities and other providers generally welcome mature students and are very willing to take into account practical experience e.g. digging or helping on a voluntary basis at a museum or other heritage site. Most degree courses will also require a GCSE or equivalent qualification in English and, sometimes, Maths – but again, flexibility can be applied to mature students.
As well as the established universities, there are an increasing number of providers of degree level education, including locally based Colleges of Further and Higher Education. These colleges are licensed to deliver degree level courses and their degrees are overseen and validated by a nearby university. Your degree certificate will bear the stamp of the validating university, not the providing college. Such colleges emphatically do not deliver sub-standard courses: indeed, they are often better geared to the needs of mature students and have the benefit of smaller group sizes, giving you more personal tuition. Importantly, they are also local and therefore may be easier for you to attend and still maintain work and family commitments.
If you enjoy distance learning and have the personal motivation, there are also opportunities for on-line correspondence courses at GCSE and A level, and, through a module by module approach, at degree level. Many of these are listed in these pages.
What about resources and fees? Ah! There is no way around the costs of fees in HE, but when you average it out, the value of what you get is still very good! When you are looking at institutions, ask about the availability of resources, including books, CD roms etc and what the expectations are for you to purchase materials when you are on course. You should expect to spend something on resources – hopefully, your enthusiasm for the subject will make you want to own certain books etc. Whatever you finally decide to do, make certain that you are thorough in your research and do not hesitate to ring institutions to ask admission tutors about their courses. Those worthy of the name will be only too pleased to discuss your needs with you. Good luck and, if you do pursue your studies, I am sure that you will enjoy every minute!