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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

Modern Languages Department on the chopping block as UoA faces £15m shortfall

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

"Aghast" staff have slammed the "out of the blue" announcement amidst fears for their jobs

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Modern Languages programmes at the University could be axed over growing financial deficits, senior managers warned at a crunch meeting earlier this week.

A consultation will be launched in the next several weeks, and staff will be "supported" to take voluntary severance or early retirement.

Language, Literature, Music, and Visual Culture (LLMVC) staffers have told The Gaudie of their “shock” upon learning about the department's financial situation.

The bad news was delivered by Senior Vice Principal Karl Leydecker on Monday, flanked by a group of HR representatives.

Prof Karl Leydecker has served as Senior Vice Principal since 2018. PHOTO: UoA

What were staff told?

One member of faculty explained:

“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'.”

The staffer, who asked to remain anonymous, explained that they felt “aghast” and “ashamed” at how language staffers had been treated:

“I have lost confidence in my head of school who is not protecting languages but colluding in their managed decline.."

"The treatment of languages colleagues shows that inflicting 'pain' on staff has become university policy."

A second staffer The Gaudie spoke to also suggested that communication about the School's financial situation has been handled poorly.

LLMVC Head of School Chris Collins did not respond to a request for comment.

What could happen to modern languages programmes?

If a solution is not found, The Gaudie understands that modern languages programmes in French, Spanish, Gaelic and German, which are currently offered as interdisciplinary degrees across the University, could be downgraded to sustained study electives.

A steering group has been formed, with an aim to craft a consultation document for publication in mid-November.

The current modern language offerings at LLMVC

Currently, the University offers over 166 modern languages based honours and joint honours degrees ranging from “French and Geography” and “German Studies” to "Anthropology and Spanish & Latin American Studies”.

While specifics were not provided at Monday's meeting, it is feared that all honours programmes could be slashed, limiting language provision to an elective basis.

A third member of staff commented on the importance of full fledged degree programmes, telling The Gaudie:

“Degree programmes in the study of languages, cultures and societies offer knowledge of language and knowledge through language, a combination that is essential for arts and humanities graduates as well as those on combined degrees, and which is highly valued by a wide range of employers, as shown in the strong demand for languages, intercultural competences and critical skills in the UK today.

“Strong institution-wide language programmes are certainly important but they need to work in tandem with departments and cannot replace them, least of all in a university of this standing."

Why are the cuts being made?

The crunch comes as the University faces a fifteen million pound deficit in their projected budget, amid declining International PGT numbers.

UoA Principal George Boyne announced the University faces a £15m deficit on Thurday.

Speaking to staff on Thursday, Professor Leydecker confirmed a consultation was taking place.

He stressed 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 added.

The University previously faced criticism for abruptly axing the Austrian Lektor teaching position over the summer.

A University of Aberdeen spokesperson said: “Falling demand nationally and here at Aberdeen for degrees in Modern Languages means that we need to develop plans to ensure the sustainability of language teaching at the University. We have established a Steering Group which will bring forward plans for consultation in due course.” 

The Gaudie understands that current students studying a language degree would not be affected by any changes.


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