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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

"The Uni thinks our degrees are less valuable": students urge rethink on potential closures

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

Lecturers and students launch campaign to pressure University mangement to keep the lights on

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

One month after The Gaudie revealed that UoA’s modern language department is at risk of closure, students are fighting back.

On 30 November, Senior Vice Principal Karl Leydecker announced the start of a consultation on the future of the department. Under management's proposal, all language programmes would be cut and elective provision would be based on demand. All department staff have been issued letters informing them that their jobs are at risk of redundancy.

Several weeks ago, we spoke to a number of language students, all of whom stressed the importance of keeping integrated honours programmes and degrees.

French and German degrees have been offered at the University since 1898, and Spanish since 1924. A source tells us that the department currently has 270 students (150 full time), as well as 25 staff.

One modern language student told us: “Studying French and Spanish at Aberdeen has had such a positive impact on me in so many ways. I would be heartbroken to see so many departments be axed just for the sake of money. Lecturers have already said how much this is affecting them, and it is affecting students too.

“With these threats looming, it feels like the University thinks our degrees are less valuable.

"It took our Head of School over a fortnight to send students a brief email about the ‘review’, which has done nothing to alleviate concerns.”

The email, sent by LLMVC Head of School Chris Collins, told students that while the University was “committed to the teaching of languages”, a “large and rapid decline” in student enrollment necessitated the review. 

Language study helps students with lower incomes travel abroad

Third year student Ryan told us that the axing of modern language degrees would be a “great loss to the university.”

“I've definitely enjoyed my experience so far studying modern languages at Aberdeen and my degree has allowed me to improve my language abilities after I had been feeling quite stuck with them when I was self-studying before enrolling at Aberdeen,” he said. 

“I've been taught by some excellent tutors and it'd be a real shame if any of them were to lose their jobs.

“Every semester the language departments offer a lot of cultural events such as film screenings or cookery classes and I definitely think those would be a lot more difficult to organise.”

Ryan also noted that closing the department may result in students from disadvantaged backgrounds facing greater barriers to study.

He added: “I'm currently on my year abroad, and as a modern language student from a low income background, the university has prioritised Turing funding for students like myself. I feel that if modern language degrees were to be axed, then it would be more difficult for students from low income backgrounds to have a term abroad and to have the opportunity to learn a new language and experience different cultures.”

“Languages will never not be important”

Christina, who studies Politics and Spanish & Latin American Studies, told 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.”

A second Spanish and Latin American Studies student added: 

“I think that the decision to axe the language degrees from the university reflects a UK wide ignorance of the importance of intercultural learning and understanding, and the need for us as English speakers to make an effort when it comes to language learning.

"What makes me so sad is the fact that languages will never not be important, positive intercultural relationships hinge on mutual effort and understanding between cultures and languages, and so axing the degree programme can only be a backwards step. 

“My own sister will not be able to come to Aberdeen University now, because it won’t offer her the same opportunity to both learn the French language and French history and culture.”

The Gaudie understands that a group of language students and societies are planning further action to protect the future of their degrees.

A third year student added: “I’m currently in Santiago on a year abroad as part of my German, Spanish & Latin American Studies degree. I talk to everyone here about the crisis in Aberdeen and they’re just so shocked and saddened by it. Especially because Aberdeen is such a famous university and is leading the case for language learning not mattering and having no place in future society. I’m now at the point of having to consider transferring university because I’m not convinced my teachers will stay at Aberdeen/won’t deliver education to the same level they have previously.”

AUSA throws support behind campaign

In a press release, Vice President for Education Rhiannon Ledwell said:

“The University must stop this consultation now. To put staff jobs at risk over the Christmas period is cruel and unnecessary. We understand the University’s position is that the Language School needs to react to the current financial challenges, but this must be done correctly, not quickly, with full involvement from students and staff. This consultation is both a panicked and knee jerk reaction that will damage the University’s reputation worldwide and deter future generations of students from studying languages.

“Students are furious that lecturers’ careers and their futures are at risk. The University must commit to no compulsory redundancies and to engaging in a genuine attempt to save Language degrees. On the day after the Scottish Government launched the “Scottish Languages Bill” to enhance protections of Gaelic culture and language, the University of Aberdeen have taken a step in the opposite direction.”

Language lecturers have launched a postcard campaign aimed at pressuring University officials to keep the department open.


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