Looking back at the Reuvensdagen 2019

Exploring the tensions between the ‘ivory tower’ and the archaeological job market.

On November 21, we organized a session at the Reuvensdagen in Apeldoorn. This session intended to explore the tensions between education in the ‘ivory tower’ of academia and the requirements of the archaeological job market in the Netherlands for junior researchers, and to see how they can be better connected. For this session, we invited five panellists to present position statements to discuss with their fellow panellists and the audience:

  • Angelique Kaspers (PhD student at University of Groningen),
  • Dorien Fröling (director at ADC ArcheoProjecten),
  • Jos Bazelmans (director of the Department of Archaeology at RCE),
  • Stijn Heeren (assistant professor at VU University),
  • and Daan Raemaekers (professor at Groningen University and chair of the ARCHON Board).

The session attracted more than 80 attendants, and discussions were lively and passionate. We focused the debate on four related themes.

Making university (graduate) education fit for the non-academic job market

Dorien Fröling kicked off the debate by stating that university education is currently rewarding a completely different skill set than is required for working with an archaeological company, and that good students are often not encouraged to take a career path outside the university. Angelique Kaspers added that it is still not very common to do internships in (R)MA programmes, so it is hard for students to build up experience in this respect. In response, both Stijn Heeren and Jos Bazelmans pointed out that universities increasingly broaden their educational programmes at the expense of the specialized knowledge that is in demand in the non-academic job market. In that sense, employers should not expect too much from universities, and should take responsibility for further education ‘on the job’, which includes much more than fieldwork.

This led Daan Raemaekers to sketch the problems that universities face in organizing field schools in the Netherlands, that need to comply to national regulations (KNA). It would be beneficial to organize these in collaboration with companies. In the audience, representatives and students of Saxion University of Applied Sciences remarked that it is possible to ‘outsource’ much of the field school organization to the students themselves, but that it is hard to find excavation projects that are suited for all possible specializations.

Improving communication between academia and ‘the market’

Jos Bazelmans emphasized that doing archaeology in any sector these days is about collaborating, to find the most efficient and effective solution to problems of an interdisciplinary nature. This implies speaking with and listening to colleagues in and outside archaeology in a very early stage of a project. At the same time, this kind of teamwork is extremely challenging. Universities can play an important role in this and train students by switching their approach from traditional lecture-based teaching to collaborative forms of education.

In addition, Daan Raemaekers remarked that universities do not seem to be very effective in showing what subjects they are working on and what they have to offer. Contacts between the academic and non-academic world are usually seen as positive by both sides, but they are not structurally embedded. Dorien Fröling suggested that a simple way to improve this could be by organizing regular meetings through ARCHON, similar to the Erfgoedarena by the Reinwardt Academie, focused on collaboration. Also, making it easier for non-academics to pursue a PhD degree is a good way to make sure that knowledge gets shared. From the audience, it was remarked by Kinie Esser (Archeoplan Eco) that it is not always easy to find out what is happening in academia. Nathalie de Visser (Province of Zeeland) added that regional authorities could play an important intermediary role in connecting local archaeologists and universities.

Facilitating permanent education

Daan Raemaekers stated that life-long learning is essential for professionals these days, but universities lack the funds to provide this on a structural basis. Jos Bazelmans remarked that this means that employers should be willing to pay for it; in that sense, archaeology still has to become more mature. A larger company like ADC has its own educational plan, but for smaller companies this is not an option. It was also noted that universities do not always seem very keen on facilitating education for professionals.

In the audience, it was emphasized by Leonard de Wit (RCE) that the seeming impotence to do something should not keep us from trying. The field needs to unite, and a system needs to be put in place to make it possible. Bjørn Smit (also RCE) added to this that the current educational options on offer for the so-called Actor Registration are very much practically oriented, and not geared towards developing scientific skills, so there is plenty of room to fill this gap.

Dorien Fröling noted that much of the knowledge exchange currently happens through collaboration in NWO projects. These, however, are incidental and do not provide sufficient funding for structural and sustainable knowledge exchange. Jos Bazelmans noted that a programme like ‘Archeologie Telt’ shows that there is a clear need for this, but it is uncertain if it will achieve this goal without follow-up funding. Besides, as Daan Raemaekers explained, the financial situation for universities is expected only to become worse in the near future, following the announced budget cuts to the Humanities by the government.

Developing better models of knowledge exchange

Stijn Heeren emphasized once more that the universities are currently in a tight corner. Education in archaeology has to compete with other disciplines in the Humanities, and faculty boards don’t seem to understand that the Dutch archaeological job market is dependent on universities to educate the future professionals in the field. Current trends are that curricula are broadened and internationalized, since this brings in more students. Furthermore, retiring staff in archaeology is not replaced, leading to a loss of expertise at universities. Taking these developments into account Stijn thinks that it is time to discuss with the whole sector how the knowledge role of the universities can be guaranteed; it is time for a sector plan. Jos Bazelmans agreed that universities don’t have it easy, but also wondered why they have not acted before: engagement in the political arena is necessary. In general terms, universities should teach students the core values of academic scholarship, rather than focus on specific knowledge of certain periods or materials.

In the audience, Femke Tomas (University of Leiden) remarked that the excavating companies favour students trained in practical skills at BA level at Saxion who did a master’s degree afterwards. Possibly this will lead to a future where the role of traditional universities for the Dutch job market will be reduced to offering an MA or MSc diploma.

Concluding, it seems clear that all panellists and the audience agreed that more exchange and collaboration is desired. It was remarked that, up to now, ARCHON has not played a significant role in this, and for us it is the main take-away of this session that we should think about organizing new platforms for knowledge exchange within Dutch archaeology that involve both academic and non-academic parties. However, where it concerns lobbying with university boards and the national government for more funding for continuing education and for sustainable forms of collaboration, there still is a long way to go. The ARCHON board has already agreed to take this up and see how we can make a contribution to uniting the sector in this respect.

Lastly, we want to thank the panellists and the audience for their stimulating contributions and the lively discussions, and we hope to be back on next year’s Reuvensdagen to continue the debate!