The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 18, Number 3
Jul 1994


Crisis Facing the Conservation Teaching Profession

by Dr. Colin Pearson
Director of the National Centre for Cultural Heritage Science Studies
University of Canberra, PO Box1, Belconnen ACT 2616, Australia

Reprinted from Conservation News, No. 52, November 1993, p.12-14.

Conservation education and training programs in institutions of higher education have been relatively well funded, particularly regarding the low student:staff ratios, compared with other programs in the same institution. This is all changing. From the papers presented at a meeting organized by the Archaeology Section of UKIC in 1991[1], discussions with conservation teachers in Europe and North America, and from my own experience at the University of Canberra, our courses are being threatened. The institutions and hence the programs are facing severe cuts in funding, and any program that cannot pay for itself could be closed down. What can be done about this? How are programs coping with this threat?

Student:Staff Ratios Necessary for Effective Teaching

To quote from the Report of the Study Committee on Education and Training, National Conservation Advisory Council, 1979, USA[2]: "The training of professional conservators is costly in terms of the time required and the ratio of faculty to students and the teaching facilities required. The NCAC has determined that a minimum of three years of closely supervised education and training with a maximum student:faculty ratio of 5:1 is necessary for adequate training. Ideally, there should be frequent opportunities for 1:1 teacher:student learning."

Also, from the Hamilton Kerr Institute, University of Cambridge, Bulletin[3], "...On average two students are selected each year which in practice gives a student:faculty ratio of 3:2. Numbers greater than this would unacceptably reduce the degree of supervision in the studio."

Table 1

Comparison of Staff and Student Numbers of Conservation and Training Courses

Staff

Institution/
Award

Duration
(Years)

Student
Intake
Per
Annum

Graduates
Per
Annum

Full
Time

Part
Time

Total

Student:
Staff
Ratio

Univ. of London Inst. of Archaeology:

4

0.5

4.5

8.9:1

BSc in Archaeological Conservation,

3

8

8

Certificate in Archaeological Conservation,

1

8-10

8-10

Diploma in Archaeological Conservation

2-3

1-2

1-2

Buffalo State University, New York:
MA and Certificate of Advanced Study in Art Cons

1(Int)3
2(Aca)3

10

10

6

0

6

3.3:1


Dept. of Historical & Critical Studies, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Polytechnic:
MA Degree in Conservation of Fine Art

2

14

13-14

3

1.6

4.6

6.1:1


Hamilton Kerr Inst., Univ. of Cambridge:
Certificate in the Conservation of Fine Art

3

2

2

6

1

7

1.5:1

Dept. of Art Conservation, University of Delaware:
MA/MS in Art Conservation

1(Int)3
2(Aca)3

10

10

5

3.5

8.5

2.4:1

Courtauld Inst. of Art, Univ. of London:
Post-Graduate Diploma in Conservation of Paintings

3

5

5

3

-

3

5:1

Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University:
MA in the History of Art plus Diploma in Conservation

4
(2.5+
1.5)4

8
(2)5

8
(2)

2

12

56

5:1

Conservation of Cultural Materials, NCCHSS, University of Canberra:
Bachelor of Applied Science in Conservation of Cultural Materials

3

16

16

4

0.5

4.5

10.7:1

Table I shows the results of a survey I made at the end of 1990, of international conservation training courses. Seven responses were received from nine institutions contacted. These are compared with figures from the University of Canberra. It is not possible to make a meaningful comparison of the costs of the programs, due to salary differences in the various countries. It is possible, however, to make some comparison of the student:staff ratios, and here it will be seen that the University of Canberra is the highest at 10.7:1. Then the University of London 8.9:1; Newcastle-upon-Tyne 6.1:1; Courtauld Institute and the Conservation Center, NYU 5:1; Buffalo College, SUNY 3.3:1; University of Delaware 2.4:1 and University of Cambridge 1.5:1. Note here that the figures for the University of London include 8-10 students enrolled each year in the certificate of Archaeological Conservation, which is only theory based. These figures emphasize the essential need for low student to staff ratios required for effective teaching in conservation of works of art and artifacts.

The low student numbers are now being threatened as budgets get cut back more and more each year. The University of Canberra has to double its future student intake to become financially viable<the quality of education and training is no longer important, it's the student numbers that count. We have been given three years to restructure the course to ensure we cover our costs.

To quote from David Watkinson[4], "...The structure of universities is being changed by government policies based on cost effectiveness and the concept of education as a business. Conservation, being a labour intensive subject with high staff to student ratios, could be affected by such policies. Lowering staff:student ratios will greatly increase the teaching load of conservation staff and affect their other activities, such as research and work on national conservation bodies. Also, unlike chemistry and other sciences, where postgraduates may be able to cope with a practical class, conservation practical [i.e., lab and field training] demands trained and experienced conservators to have 1:1 contact with the individuals for considerable amounts of time. The individuality of each object demands this attention. Conservation teaching also contains a mass of administration associated with the laboratory practicals. Hopefully the goals of education will prevail, conservation will continue as a university degree and will not fall victim to under resourcing and the lure of degrees able to function with fewer teaching staff."

I am also hopeful, but let us be proactive rather than reactive, as by then it may be too late. Chris Caple of the Department of Archaeology, Durham University has similar problems with his program and has made various suggestions to solve them.[5] Let us look at these and other possible tactics which can reduce the effects of funding cuts.

Reducing the Threat

Cost of Teaching

It is interesting that the costs of teaching are all related to student intake and not to student graduation. An average student drop-out for most university courses is 15-25%, which means a lot of money is wasted. Conservation training programs on the other hand, owing to high competition for entry, and the relatively low student:staff ratios, have very high graduation rates (there are other reasons as well). To quote from responses to the 1990 survey as to the question of wastage: "None or one every three years." "We have little loss, three years ago a student left in the first year." "Since foundation in 1977, three students failed to complete the Certificate Course." "While all students may not graduate precisely as scheduled, most do indeed graduate." At the University of Canberra it was calculated that it cost approximately $26,000 over three years to produce a graduate from the Conservation program, but an average of $35,000 to produce graduates from other programs in the same Faculty. These figures have never been challengedÑneither have they been accepted as relevant to the case.

Service Teaching

A problem with most conservation programs is that they teach most of their own units, and with small numbers of students. The units are either not available or not relevant to students in other courses in the institution, and it is therefore difficult to bring in large numbers of students into the program, thereby bringing in more money. It costs the same to lecture 100 students as 10, but the income is ten times higher.

At the University of Durham[5] students from other cour-ses are taught in the Department of Archaeology. At the University of Canberra we are now teaching large numbers of students in basic anthropology, archaeology and materials science. This is a result of much closer integration of three courses: conservation of cultural materials, museum studies and cultural heritage management, all part of the National Centre for Cultural Heritage Science Studies. A problem here is that, as found at the University of Durham, it puts a heavy load on staff, not so much the teaching but the administration and assessment of large numbers of students.

Another approach has been to develop a common strand of six units which are taken by all conservation, museum studies and cultural heritage management students. If we can keep students in our own program, we keep the associated money compared to students taking units in other programs or institutions. This, however, reduces flexibility and opportunities for study in related fields.

Student Numbers

It is always possible to increase student numbers as most programs receive many more applications than there are places, but the quality of education and training will drop<or are there different approaches to teaching we can take so as not to compromise this quality we have developed over the years? At the University of Canberra we have been told we must double our student intake, and have therefore had to redesign/restructure the course accordingly. There has had to be some compromise, but we believe (hopefully) the quality of the conservation graduate will not be affected. Only time will tell.

Teaching Load

Table 2

Target Teaching Relatives, 1992
(University Average = 1.0)

Discipline Group

Undergrad

Course Work

PostGrad Research

A. Langs other than English

1.057

1.300

1.971

B. Behavorial Science

0.847

1.845

3.104

C. Other Humanities

0.769

0.881

1.300

D. Social Sciences

0.747

0.881

1.300

E. Education

1.019

1.216

1.845

F. Sciences

1.688

2.139

3.271

G. Mathematics, Statistics

0.772

1.049

1.468

H. Computing, Computer Sci

0.965

1.300

1.929

I. Visual/Performing Arts

1.049

1.300

1.929

J. Eng'g, Processing, Surveying

1.820

2.433

3.942

K. Medicine, Dentistry, Vet Sci

2.684

3.691

5.620

L. Nursing, Other Health

1.132

1.426

3.020

M. Admin, Business, Econ, Law

0.679

0.755

1.132

N. Built Environment

1.126

1.426

2.181

O. Agriculture

2.139

2.852

4.530

It is recognized that it is more expensive to teach some disciplines than others. Table 2 shows the relative weightings in Australia. If the course is offered under the Humanities it will only receive a weighting per student of 0.769, compared with 1.049 for the Visual Arts and 1.668 for the sciences (at undergraduate level). It is therefore important to ensure that all units taught in a conservation program have the highest weightings possible. Even changing the name of a unit may assist in this regard. Note also that graduate conservation teaching has a higher relativity than undergraduate. Promoting research will also bring in a much higher relativity. In the sciences for example, this is doubled.

Other Sources of Income

Conservation Programs often raise money/income in a number of ways. Some charge for conservation done by students as part of their practical work. This is usually broken into the cost of the materials and labour. The University of Canberra has always charged for materials, but there is a problem with labour which is related to the liability of the student/program/institution as regards loss or damage to an object. Although there is a signed contract between owner and university based on "no responsibility, no charge" (for labour). Only a court will determine the protection that this provides. The other important aspect of any charges made by a conservation program is that they will invariably undercut the conservator working in private practice. Then there are endowment funds and grants that may assist a Conservation Program with any financial difficulties. These, however, will not cure long-term problems.

Research

As is well known, research should be an essential component of every conservation program. It not only carries a higher relativity factor per student (see above), but also establishes a research profile for the program, and whether we like it or not research is still considered more important than education and training in many institutions of higher education.

The Future

I believe there is a crisis facing conservation training programs. If not today, it may hit you in the near future. It is much better to be prepared and take action than wait until the axe falls. There are a number of alternative techniques which can be used, not only to improve education and training of conservation students, but also reduce costs, especially those relating to staff. What innovative techniques are conservation teachers using to raise the quality of their teaching, but at the same time saving money? I have made some suggestions on what has or can be done on some of these issues. I would welcome advice and comments from all involved in conservation education and training.

References

1. White, R (ed) (1992). Archaeological Conservation: Training and Employment, UKIC, London.

2. Anon (1979), "Report of the Study Committee on Education and Training." National Conservation Advisory Council, Washington, DC, p.7-8.

3. McClure, I (1988), "The Training Programme," The Hamilton Kerr Bulletin, No. 1, p. 9-11.

4. Watkinson, D (1992), "Conservation and University Education: Cardiff Conservation BSc" in Archaeological Conservation: Training and Employment, UKIC, London, p.6-10.

5. Caple, C (1992), "Teaching Postgraduate Conservation at Durham: Past, Present and Future," ibid, p.11-15.

Notes for Table 1:

1. Assumes virtually no wastage.

2. The student:staff ratio is only approximate and assumes no wastage of students. Also, the student numbers are effective full time students. Note that the Master's degree courses at Buffalo State College and University of Delaware are two years by course work and a third year by internship, the latter being external to the institution.

3. (Aca) refers to the academic component of tde course held at the university. (Int) refers to the internship carried out away from the university.

4. The program is normally completed in four years. The first two and a half years typically are spent in residence at the Conser-vation Centre. The program leads to an MA degree in History of Art after the first five semesters, and to a Diploma in Conser-vation upon completion of the program. The final year is an internship.

5. Two special foreign students are accepted into the fall semester only, of each year.

6. It is not possible to accurately determine the number of effective full time staff.

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