Save Language, Translation & Interpreting degrees at the University of Aberdeen
5. 12. 2023
On 30 November of this year, all staff in the Modern Languages, Translation and Interpreting section of the University of Aberdeen were told that they are at risk of redundancy, opening a false choice ‘consultation period’ in which the options all involve the end of research in the languages at Aberdeen and significant job losses. Despite languages being ranked 12th in the UK in the Guardian’s 2023 survey, despite accolades from external examiners, our high praise at our recent Internal Teaching Review and our highly satisfied students, the University of Aberdeen is seeking to shut down languages, translation and interpreting degrees. The University will also close languages-, translation- and interpreting-based research, despite successes such as our securing grants and donations worth over £2,000,000 in the last 7 years.
The new default position will be language-only courses taught by casualised staff for year 1 students (and possibly year 2). Thus, at a time when the University of Aberdeen touts its ‘international’, ‘interdisciplinary’ and ‘inclusive’ values, University of Aberdeen students would not be able to achieve language proficiency, much less have the intercultural skills and bridge-building abilities that comes from full degrees in languages, cultures and societies. The hurried process to arrive at this point is alarming: staff with relevant expertise have been excluded from decision making, much of the evidence presented does not stand up to scrutiny (such as a disproven allegation of 'accelerated decline' of 'accelerating decline' of our student uptake in languages) and no external advice has been sought. There are serious EDI concerns, as well. In a process led by three white men, three of the School’s women professors out of five in the School in total, are being targeted, in spite of an institutional 18% gender pay gap at UoA. This unit also has more international and ethnicised-minority staff than other parts of the school and the majority of languages students are women.
If allowed to proceed, the ancient University of Aberdeen would be destroying degree programmes that have been in place for a century or more (French and German since 1898; Gaelic recruited its first lecturer in 1916, and it has been part of the University since 1495; Spanish since 1924). Aberdeen would become the only ancient University, not only in the UK, but in the world, without language degrees. Withdrawal of the Gaelic degree would be out of line with the University’s statutory Gaelic Language Plan, as prescribed by the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005. Withdrawal of the languages, translation and intrepreting degrees could well be a false economy as it would also have profound, long-term consequences for league table placement, recruitment of Joint Honours students and equality of educational access across the north of Scotland. Existing shortages of school teachers across that area are already at crisis point, especially in languages, and would only get worse if the University stopped supplying teachers, as many students wouldn't be able to afford to study in the Central Belt.
Although the University seemed confident that the release of their options and statement on November 30th would bring consensus on the justification of their drastic 'options', the response of the media, politicians in Holyrood and Westminster, diplomats, business leaders currently reconsidering their philanthropy to the University, alumni and other public figures such as singer Iona Fyfe, indicates the opposite.
The consultation process requires languages staff to demonstrate that their chosen option is 'financially sustainable'. Is it financially sustainable for the university to have incurred travelling expenses to its campus in Qatar to the amount of £269,000 over the past 5 years, compared with Glasgow's travelling expenses of £40,000 to their campus in Singapore over the past 3 years? Are Senior Management salaries sustainable and appropriate for the university's charitable status? And is it sustainable for the University's admissions modelling to remain opaque, when the accuracy of its financial forecasting is at stake?
We call on the University of Abedeen to remove the threat of redundancy for languages staff and re-commit to the single and joint honours degree programmes and sustained study courses currently offered. We also call on the University of Aberdeen to work on reasonable terms with its existing dedicated, experienced and highly-regarded staff in Languages, Translation & Interpreting and appropriate external bodies, such as the UCFL, to develop creative strategies that don't cut off part of the University's core charitable mission and address the financial situation on reasonable terms.
Further background information is available here.
You can also support this campaign in other ways:
- Email a postcard to our management and/or share using the hashtags #callingchris #card2karl #greetings2george #saveuoalanguages
- (If residing in Scotland) ask your MSP to support the tabled motion in support of Languages, Translation & Interpreting degrees at UoA: a template letter can be found here and you can find your MSP here.
- If you are a former student of UoA, please consider signing this open letter.
- If you are part of the University of Aberdeen, you can access the Senior Management's consultation document and the slides on the proposed 'options'.