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WHAT WE KNOW: Modern Languages Could Be Axed as University Faces 15 Million Pound Funding Gap

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Lecturers launch campaign to keep department open

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Photo by Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

23 October:

News about the potential closure of the language department is delivered by Senior Vice Principal Karl Leydecker at a shock meeting, flanked by a group of HR representatives.

One member of faculty tells us: “The whole school was called into a meeting about the school's 'academic and financial sustainability', with the SVP [senior vice principal], three representatives from HR, and the school's accountant, as well as the head of school. While the meeting was framed as being about the school's situation, the powerpoint singled out the language programmes, claiming that they are in substantial deficit. 

“[Prof Leydecker] announced that we were 'at the end of the road'.

This statement, and the situation presented, came out of the blue. We have had no suggestion at all that financial issues were this existential and had never been given any hint that we were on this 'road'.”

25 October:

University chiefs lay out the "difficult" situation. The current budget is based on the assumption that monies from tuition fees would increase by 15%, from 96 million to 111 million.

However, revenue is projected to remain the same, as international PGT student admissions did not increase as projected. UoA Principal George Boyne blames volatile financial markets and increasingly stringent immigration laws for the plateau.

While Professor Boyne says it was his "very strong preference" to avoid compulsory redundancies, he admits costs had to be cut across the University in the next several years.

CFO Mark White, the University’s head of finance, adds: 

“[This] has put us in the position of having a much larger deficit than what we had anticipated, and also puts us in the territory of potentially breaching our financial covenants.”

The finance chief says management have identified potential savings which will lower the gap to £8 million, and are continuing to look for other savings across the University. 

Staffers in the modern languages department in the School of Language, Literature, Music,  and Visual Culture (LLMVC) may be among those affected by the funding crunch.

A consultation is launched to determine the future of the department, which has seen decreased student enrolment in recent years. Staff will be "supported" in taking voluntary severance or early retirement.

If a solution is unable to be found, The Gaudie understands that modern language programmes in French, Spanish, Gaelic and German, which are currently offered as interdisciplinary degrees across the University, could be reduced to sustained study programmes.

Speaking to staff, Professor Leydecker confirms a consultation was taking place.

He stresses the need for the University to look at the future of financially underperforming courses and programmes, such as modern languages, commenting: "There are really serious challenges around languages as part of the school due to long standing falls in student recruitment in those areas.”

"We can’t keep delivering the small courses we’ve been delivering," he adds.

Professor Boyne assures staff he had developed a “Financial Recovery Plan”, which would allow a phased drawback on costs over the next several years to lower the current deficit. His proposal will require the approval of the University Court, the governing body of the institution.

15 November:

Language lecturers launch a postcard campaign on social media, urging students, alumni, and the public to write to senior management and demand the department remain open.

Scores of letters are written with prominent NE Scots like Maggie Chapman MSP and folk singer Iona Fyfe joining the cause.

19 November:

Students and alumni speak out against the potential closure, telling The Gaudie about the importance of language and cultural studies.

Christina, who studies Politics and Spanish & Latin American Studies, tells us: “This is my last year studying Spanish & Latin American Studies. I learned so much more than the language. Music, art and history belong to it and are inherently connected to language. They are the soul and give significance to the language.”

“I couldn’t have imagined my studies without cultural classes, giving a deeper meaning to the language I learn.

"Thanks to the amazing lecturers in the department, they were always the most insightful and challenging courses throughout my degree.”

Vice President for Education Rhiannon Ledwell says AUSA supports the campaign.

“As a Modern Languages student myself this is something I feel personally incredibly passionate about – and want to be clear that the Students’ Union will be fighting for the best interests of its students throughout the review."

27 November:

Students question Mr White and Professor Leydecker at AUSA's AGM on Monday at 6pm.

Ahead of the meeting, lecturers release a document with key information, which is linked below:

30 November:

University management announce three consultation options for modern language staff. Management's preferred option is to cut all single and joint honours degree programmes. Staff are sent letters outining that their jobs are "at risk of redundancy."

Several dozen language students demonstrate in King's College before entering the building to support their lecturers during the University's announcement.

Principal Karl Leydecker says: "It is deeply regrettable that the provision of Modern Languages at the University is unsustainable in its current form, with low and falling numbers of students..."


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