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An act of ‘academic vandalism’: Rally held in support of modern language department

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Politicians, union leaders, staff, and students gathered in a show of solidarity ahead of pivotal Court vote

By Lee Morrow

A rally to protest recent proposals to cut UoA’s modern languages department took place Monday evening, on the eve of a key vote in the University Court- which could see senior management given full control over the fate of degree programmes.

The event, organised between AUSA and the University of Aberdeen’s branch of UCU, saw students and staff fill New Kings to the brim in defence of the modern languages department.

Several local politicians took part, including

SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central Kevin Stewart, who said he was ‘pleased to see a huge turnout’, after having contacted and met with Principal George Boyne last week to no avail.

UCU General Secretary Jo Grady addressed the crowd via video link.

She said:

"Teaching and research in modern languages is an integral part of a university.

"These plans could leave Aberdeen as the only ancient university in the UK to not offer modern language degrees which says much about management at Aberdeen university, and their lack of ambition for the university and North-East Scotland.”

Grady continued, stating:

“We know from the many interventions from European consulates, politicians, professional bodies, staff and senators, and from students that modern languages at Aberdeen is valued and that the staff that deliver that work should be invested in rather than face losing their jobs. UCU negotiators will be engaging in the consultation process to save jobs and to save modern languages at the university.”

The University of Aberdeen’s branch of UCU has spoken out a great deal since the beginning of the proposals.

Grady has described the proposals being suggested by the senior management team as “academic vandalism.”

“It’s not just Aberdeen,” she said, “we’re also seeing attacks at Oxford Brookes, Staffordshire and other universities; in total over a dozen institutions.”

AUSA’s Vice-President for Education, Rhiannon Ledwell, gave an impassioned address in both English and Gaelic.

She commented: “Our entire community of students, academics and professional staff, as well as the wider students’ community of NUS Scotland, are united in this.

"We have 11,800 people and counting behind us who have signed our petition. We have united politicians across party lines."

"This is Scotland united against 6 people sitting in a room trying to decide our future, and University management has another thing coming if they think we will sit here quietly.

"We call upon Court to stop this consultation immediately, and to ensure that it does not, under any circumstance, delegate its responsibility to UOA management in this matter.”

Ledwell’s statement that the camapign has “united politicians across party lines” was definitely accurate.

Several MSPs came forward to talk about their condemnation of SMT plans to cut modern languages.

North East MSP for the Scottish Greens, Maggie Chapman, said: "I am very concerned about proposals to close model languages courses at the University of Aberdeen.

"I think it sends exactly the wrong message for what should be the comprehensive university for the North East of Scotland.”

She reminded the crowd that the University “has a civic duty to the city and to the wider region to be an institution that covers all academic disciplines, providing rigorous and really important degree programs for students from the region, and equipping the next generation with the skills and tools that are going to be so necessary as we try to deal with the global crises we face.”

Those at the rally also heard from Professor Nadia Kiwan, a professor of French and Francophone Studies and Head of the Modern Languages and Translation and Interpreting cluster.

She noted the success of the campaign so far, saying: “Modern Languages, Translation and Interpreting staff and students stand united in their desire for a deep commitment to Modern Languages research and teaching as the historic, current and future foundation of the pursuit of interdisciplinary, international and inclusive knowledge that underpins the University of Aberdeen’s mission.”

It remains clear that staff and students at the University will not back down from this fight, and the support of the local and wider community is apparent.

To show solidarity, colleagues from The University of Edinburgh in modern languages flocked to social media to condemn the SMT’s proposals.

The fight to save modern languages at Aberdeen is ongoing.


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