Glasgow University’s senior management group has drawn up plans to scrap or merge a raft of courses as part of moves to save £20 million over the next three years. The proposals, which will be put out to consultation, include drastic cuts to Modern Languages and — disgracefully — to evening and weekend classes, which cater for up to 5000 adult learners a year. Staff at the University have sent the following open letter to Scottish Education Secretary Michael Russell:

Dear Mr Russell,

The cuts in academic provision proposed by the University of Glasgow management must be a matter of public and political concern for the greater Glasgow area and for Scotland as a whole. The University management is bringing forward plans to cut courses in a range of Modern Languages (possibly reducing provision to only two languages), in Nursing, Anthropology and Adult Education, as well as cutting back in areas such as Archaeology and Classics and the Centre for Drugs Misuse Research.

Universities are independent institutions, but they are publicly funded and are a vital part of the economic, cultural and social fabric of this country. The future of university funding in Scotland is unclear. Pending decisions on future funding mechanisms and levels, which will be taken following the Scottish elections in May, every effort must be made to avoid damaging and irreversible cuts to subject areas. The management of any one institution must not be allowed to pre-empt political decisions and unilaterally decide the shape of future educational provision in key disciplines in Scotland’s largest city.

Recent reports have highlighted the importance of languages in higher education. In 2009 Baroness Coussins commented, “unless the decline in modern language learning is reversed, Anglophone Britons will become one of the most monolingual peoples in the world, with severe consequences for our economy, for business competitiveness, for international reputation and mobility and for community cohesion at home.” The British Academy report “Language Matters More and More” (9 February 2011), warns that further reductions in language provision in universities “will have wider detrimental impacts on UK social, cultural and economic well-being”.

Teaching and research in Modern Languages and Cultures has suffered severe attrition in Scotland in recent years. There have been cuts or ongoing threats of cuts in the range of languages taught at Edinburgh and St Andrews. Languages provision at Strathclyde has been reduced severely with the loss of Russian and German and a massive reduction in the complement of full academic staff in the remaining areas. The University of the West of Scotland is phasing out languages, and Glasgow Caledonian does not offer language degrees. At Stirling, only French and Spanish degree courses are provided. Notwithstanding serious reductions in staffing over some years, Glasgow remains the key provider of degree courses in a wider range of foreign languages and cultures in the West of Scotland.

Alongside the threat to degree programmes in Modern Languages, there is a serious threat to cut courses in Adult and Continuing Education. Language classes account for a major part of the activities of this unit. The proposal to axe these courses along with the plans potentially to cut degree level courses in Czech, German, Italian, Polish and Russian represent a comprehensive assault on educational provision in foreign languages and cultures in the city of Glasgow and the West of Scotland.

We call on you as the Minister responsible for Higher Education to do everything in your power to influence the management of the University of Glasgow and to ensure that the University continues to fulfil its historic role as an outward-looking institution rooted in the community that it serves rather than working primarily to maximise income in the international marketplace. In this respect the recent British Academy report urges universities to “adopt a wider definition of ‘internationalisation’ rather than focus simply on the recruitment of overseas students”. The University of Glasgow must continue to serve the needs of Scotland in providing excellent higher education that can open up international and European perspectives for the young people of Scotland, giving them the opportunity to develop high-level linguistic skills and intercultural understanding as part of a broad ranging humanities education.

If you care about languages and their importance for our economy, our culture and our young people, please sign the petition organised by the School of Modern Languages and Cultures to help save Modern Languages at the University of Glasgow. As well as signing, please click ‘like’ on the Facebook page Modern Languages and Cultures at University of Glasgow under threat and forward the link.  Thank you.

By Marian Dougan