Published in Egyptological, Magazine Edition 4, February 27th 2012
By Barbara O’Neill
Please note: The table “Egyptology in the UK – Academic Courses at Undergraduate and Postgraduate level” that accompanies this article and details all the known courses available in the UK can be downloaded as a PDF:
Egyptology Courses in the UK (if you don’t have a PDF reader you can download Adobe’s Acrobat Reader free of charge: http://get.adobe.com/uk/reader/)
Like many of Egyptological’s readers, I spend most of my free time researching, studying and reading on the subject of ancient Egypt. This ancient culture has always interested me but until 2008, I had found no way of pursuing the subject academically. It was around then that I came across the University of Manchester’s Certificate in Egyptology course. Other universities including Glasgow and Birkbeck College, London run their own versions of this academically accredited course, but Manchester remains the only university delivering the entire 3 year Egyptology syllabus online. As I work full time and live overseas, this option suited me perfectly.
Approaching the final year of this superb course, I began the search for further, more advanced study options in Egyptology. As a mature student, I really didn’t want to begin pursuing 3 year undergraduate courses. Besides, I couldn’t possibly opt out of work for 3 years, although a year out would be manageable. So, I set my sights on completing an MA level course, full time over one year. This level of advanced study is the ideal next stage for me and I really do regard this as my own personally awarded ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’. I knew that if I didn’t do it soon, life would, once again, get in the way of pursuing a long held dream of studying Egyptology to an advanced academic level.
So it really was a memorable moment when about two years into the Certificate course, I discovered that Birkbeck was offering an MA in Egyptology. From that point on, I began to plan the next stage of my life based on the possibility that I might get a place on this course. Everything about the Birkbeck MA suited my personal circumstances. I planned to take a year off and began budgeting towards my return to student life after many years spent overseas. Birkbeck is a relatively short train ride from my home. It was perfect in other, practical ways. Birkbeck is one of those rare educational institutions which encourages mature students. We are a considerable group, desirous of returning to academia after many years raising families, paying off mortgages and looking around for a fresh challenge. Although it may never be an easy option to return to student life, it is all too easy to get used to a regular income and an enjoyable lifestyle. However, Birkbeck’s teaching schedule means that students unable to take a year out, can continue to work full time and still attend evening classes each week.
Everything about Birkbeck was perfect until this week, when I learned from one of my regular checks on the website that their MA in Egyptology has been cancelled; it was literally there one day, gone the next! The official line is that ‘my’ course is ‘not running in 2012’ but it doesn’t look good for 2013 either, and that was going to be my year!
It is all rather odd. For Egyptology has never been more popular. Visit any Egyptology exhibition, attend a lecture by an established Egyptologist and the room will often be packed; so why isn’t that filtering down (or up?) to University level and why aren’t more of these academic institutions offering Distance or part time courses for those of us still willing to learn and able to fill their coffers as we do so? Could it be that academics in their ivory towers have completely forgotten about the mature students out there? In this economically challenged and challenging era, it really isn’t all about youth any longer! Perhaps it’s time to spare a thought for mature members of the student community still willing and able to learn and to contribute, and who come fully loaded with life skills. Besides, the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) is the ‘new’ classroom; low overheads; keen pupils who really want to be there; state-of-the-art Blackboard or Moodle delivery systems, it’s surely a win-win situation? It’s working well at cutting-edge Manchester, but where’s everyone else?!
A very kind administrator, who clearly sensed my angst and who took the trouble to reply in detail to my rather emotional email, explained that Birkbeck’s MA in Egyptology, having run for just a short while was ‘withdrawn because of chronic problems and very low interest’. Really?! Disappointment doesn’t begin to cover it.
And so Project ‘Plan B’ has begun. There has to be another option out there for a super keen mature student with an eager work ethic, filled with the desire to learn. With the possibility that it might help others in my just-post-the-baby-boomer generation, the fruits of my research are here. I don’t claim that the following list of universities where it is still possible to study Egyptology is definitive; but I have dug deep into some rather peculiarly structured websites in order to extract an up to date list of places where it is possible for you to fulfill your own lifetime ambition to study Egyptology academically at a UK institution.
Luckily, I began planning the route to my ‘lifetime achievement year’ eighteen months ahead of schedule. I’m still looking for other study options and I certainly haven’t given up, although I do have to say, “Birkbeck please reconsider reinstating your Egyptology MA”! Perhaps this plea alone will attract other mature students out there to register interest, and prompt other Universities to consider those of us who turn up for lessons wide awake; who hand homework in on time; who are more computer-literate than you might assume and who are firmly convinced that one is never too old to learn!
The table “Egyptology in the UK – Academic Courses at Undergraduate and Postgraduate level” that accompanies this article is available for download as a PDF: Egyptology Courses in the UK (if you don’t have a PDF reader you can download Adobe’s Acrobat Reader free of charge: http://get.adobe.com/uk/reader/).