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Aberdeen’s language degrees at risk

Members of staff in the modern languages department at the University of Aberdeen – and beyond – are campaigning against proposals to cut language and culture degree programs at the university.

The university could shift in focus to language teaching only, as a limited add-on to other degree programs. Photo: Unsplash

An online postcard campaign has been launched to showcase the reasons why the university should protect its language degrees

The University of Aberdeen is drawing up plans for consultation which could see the withdrawal of honours degrees in languages, cultures and societies.

Instead, the university could shift in focus to language teaching only, as a limited add-on to other degree programs, The PIE learned.

“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,” a spokesperson for the University of Aberdeen said in a statement.

“We have established a Steering Group which will bring forward plans for consultation in due course,” they continued.

“Such a radical change in provision will have serious consequences for the whole of the north of Scotland in terms of equal access to language education,” one member of the university’s modern languages department, who wished to remain anonymous, told The PIE News.

They added that such a move would “seriously undermine the university’s regional and civic mission” – while forcing aspiring linguists in the North of Scotland to relocate to the South which may be a financial or personal burden.

The staff member, who said they spoke on behalf of the department, said the cuts would have a “serious and lasting impact” on the training and recruitment of languages teachers in secondary education in the region.

“There is already a significant shortage of languages teachers in the region and the university’s move risks undermining the Scottish government’s desire to promote and consolidate language learning through the 1+2 policy and other measures,” the source continued.

“In a context where the UK needs more linguists and not less, as evidenced by recent research and policy reports, the university’s direction of travel is highly regrettable and worrying. It is a matter of social justice that young people in the region would still have access to language learning.”

“It is a matter of social justice that young people in the region would still have access to language learning”

Maggie Chapman, MSP and former rector of the university, released a letter on behalf of several members of university staff and constituents – which shared very similar sentiments and was addressed to the university’s principal George Boyne, urging him to stop the cuts.

She expressed concern about the way in which the issue had been dealt with and communicated to staff.

“Staff have not been involved in any conversations with senior management until very recently, when they were informed that this issue was at “the end of the road” by senior vice principal Karl Leydecker,” said Chapman.

“They had no idea that they were even ‘on the road’,” the letter continued.

Chapman spoke of the benefits such degrees bring to the wider publics.

“In order for us and future generations to rethink and reimagine how we live in order to deal with the global crises we face, it is clear that we need the skills and capacities to think beyond our current modes of operation.

“The study and appreciation of different linguistic, cultural and societal intricacies are vital to this.”

Chapman concluded by urging university management to come up with alternative proposals that “sustain and nurture” the modern languages department and its degrees.

An online postcard campaign has also been launched, with the University Council for Languages urging people to take part and showcase to university management “all the reasons why an ancient university with an international outlook should keep language degrees”.

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