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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

Specialist tutors, research slashed & demand-based provision- the future of languages in Aberdeen

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

The "best-case" scenario would see the number of staff cut by 52%

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

If University management's plan to gut modern languages is approved, wholesale changes will come to the department, The Gaudie's analysis of a consultation document shows.

Under management's "recommended option", lecturers would be replaced by "specialist language tutors", research would be halted, and language provision above Level 1 would be subject to "sufficient demand." Some Gaelic cultural study would be shifted to other parts of the school.

University management (SMT) have suggested that a decline in enrolment and overreliance on Scottish undergraduates have made the current situation untenable.

The situation:

SMT contends that there are "steeply falling enrolments" and "particularly poor recruitment" to modern language programmes at UoA. They point to a 79% decrease in UG first year students from 2010/2011, along with low intakes from the last two years as evidence for an "accelerated decline."

Data suggests a more nuanced picture.

First year UG intake

Excluding those on temporary and zero hour contracts, there are 37 (28.3 full-time equivalent) teaching staff currently employed in the department, including those who teach languages as part of sustained study programmes. 16 (14.35 FTE) staff are currently hired on teaching and research contracts.

There are 206.41 FTE students enrolled in UG, PGT, and PGR programmes.

This creates a student:staff ratio of 7.2 to 1.

A document created by language lecturers has pushed back on alleged inaccuracies in the consultation document. It reads:

"The number of Level 1 students currently registered on Modern Languages degrees (single/joint/major-minor/with) is 62, equating to just under 30 FTE. Student count is important when considering workload requirements and staff-student ratios. The number of staff teaching on our degree programmes is 25, equating to 21.06 FTE.

"As well as teaching non-degree students taking sub-Honours courses as electives, staff also contribute to UG and PGT programmes across LLMVC and the wider University. We have 270 students (over 150 FTE) registered on our UG degrees in Modern Languages, not including students who take our sub-Honours language courses as electives."

SMT has said that closing down research projects would improve the University's REF submission, a argument which language staff have emphatically denied.

In response, lecturers provided us with this excerpt:

"Our research performance is strong: we have secured grants and donations worth over £2,000,000 in the last 7 years and contribute 78% of the total School share of REG for REF impact. In the on-going ‘stocktake’ for REF2028, our outputs have been scored at 88% 3*/4* on the ‘strict outcome’ rubric (joint fifth-highest Unit of Assessment out of 22 Units across the University)."

SMT has contended that "opportunities to grow income in Modern Languages are limited."

According to their data, UG students would have to double in order for the department to fulfil their financial obligations.

SMT's overall conclusion:

"The scale of the financial challenge for Modern Languages can be illustrated by the fact that in order

to reach a contribution rate of 35% a reduction of staffing costs of £1.21m would be required (from

28.83 FTE to 12.40 FTE), while a reduction of £1.57m would be required to eliminate the deficit (a

reduction in staff from 28.83 FTE to 7.50 FTE).

"This would make it impossible to deliver the programmes. Modern Languages provision at the University in its current form is therefore clearly unsustainable.

What options are available?

Option 1 (keeping joint honours programmes and reducing number of courses)

This option could be maintained with 13.85 FTE, a "staffing reduction of 52%." Teaching could be done by teaching follows with no research obligation.

This option is not recommended by management.

Option 2 (offering language provision as a named minor alongside some programmes)

This option could be maintained with 11.8 FTE, "a staffing reduction of 59.1%." This would require a "restructure of staffing" as the programme would be conducted by "specialist language tutors."

This option is not recommended by management.

Option 3 (cutting all joint and single honour programmes and reducing language provision to "freestanding electives").

Provision beyond Year 1 would be "dependent on sufficient demand."

No mention is made of staffing numbers, except the following:

"This option could be flexed according to demand and would be able to be delivered in a cost-effective manner through specialist language tutors. In order to ensure the sustainability of this provision, close attention would need to be paid to the size of classes to ensure that classes would be offered in line with demonstrable demand."

The Gaudie understands that 'specialist language tutors' could refer to hourly paid lecturers or Teaching Fellow on 0.5 FTE contracts.

This is management's recommended option.

Gaelic Provision:

Some Gaelic cultural courses could be offered as part of the University's Celtic & Anglo-Saxon Studies and Scottish Studies programmes..

"Any changes to Gaelic provision will need to be reflected in the University's Gaelic Language Plan."

In the interest of transparency, we have included a link to the full document below:


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