Letter about proposed cuts to staffing at the University of East Anglia, from the University Council of Modern Languages (UCML) and partner organisations

In April 2023, UCML signed a a letter with partner organisations, which set out some thoughts about the proposed cuts to staffing at UEA, specifically in the Department of Language and Communication Studies (LCS).

The text of the letter is below, where you may also find the original, signed PDF.

“We are writing on behalf of the University Council of Modern Languages (UCML)— the main learned society representing scholars in languages, linguistics, cultures, and societies, within UK Higher Education, in conjunction with an extensive range of Languages associations and stakeholders in the field. We wish to express our very deep concerns regarding the University of East Anglia’s proposals by senior management for significant staff cuts across the university, particularly the plan to cut staff costs by 30% in UEA’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, including within the Department of Language and Communication Studies (LCS).

The Department has a fully deserved reputation for both teaching and research excellence: rated as being in the top 5 in two successive REFs and achieving 96% student satisfaction in this year’s NSS. The research contribution of LCS is impressive. It was ranked 4th in the 2021 Times Higher Education REF rankings. 93% of its research was ranked as world leading or internationally excellent. Current department members have made major contributions to a wide range of areas related to language, culture and communication. Examples include intercultural pragmatics, forensic linguistics, politeness in language, political discourse analysis, intercultural communication, translation theories, translation and philosophy, media accessibility, sports translation, audio-visual translation, climate change in French literature, Japanese art history, and disaster risk management and COVID recovery via art-based methods in South America (Impact case study; ranked in top 5 community projects by the Colombian government).

The approach to teaching is equally impressive. LCS’s focus on both theory and practical application has strong interest from students and ensures a very relevant forward-thinking curriculum within translation, interpreting, applied linguistics, and intercultural communication teaching. The investment in a brand-new state-of-art language laboratory fully equipped with industry-standard interpreting booths, translation technologies and audio-visual translation tools, means LCS are one of only a small number of universities that offer media accessibility, subtitling and interpreting training at undergraduate level. This emphasis on real world learning and effective employability activities embedded in teaching has ensured strong Graduate Outcomes success. UEA also has a long-established commitment to institution wide language learning, which supports institutional strategies towards internationalisation (especially internationalisation at home), employability, and wider student enrichment. There have been plans to grow this activity, especially for evening classes which are income generating. In line with national strategies to improve language competency across the UK, it is important to increase access to institution wide language learning and inter-cultural education, and we would hope this activity would not be placed at risk by any planned funding restrictions.

Also notable is LCS’s long-standing and effective work in the local area and with local schools. The successful Language Teachers’ Network engaged with over 100 teachers in Norfolk and North Suffolk, running networking and training events. Extracurricular projects such as SAAM (Support for Access to Audiovisual Media; an inclusive and innovative language-learning project), the longest-running French Theatre in the UK, and Japan cultural days, have brought language learning to a wider audience. LCS regularly organise a range of events and lectures for the public, most notably the ‘Love Languages’ event that is held annually in the centre of Norwich at the Forum. The University-wide Language Programme welcomes over 1000 members of the public to campus to learn a language every year, as well as 1000 students per year from across the university who take a language as part of credit bearing modules.

All of the above is vitally important work. To reduce or cut language provision in East Anglia would create a languages ‘black hole’ in an area of the country with low progression rates to HE.

The study of languages, cultures, and societies, offer a unique combination of linguistic and critical thinking skills, which are highly sought after by employers. Language education has been recognised as an urgent priority area for both governmental and higher education bodies such as the AHRC, British Council, DfE (with its recent announcement of new investment in the languages pipeline), GCHQ, and the British Academy, and the economic benefits of languages stressed in a recent report by the University of Cambridge and RAND. We are concerned that UEA will not be able to continue to play a significant role in these agendas if staffing is further reduced from current levels and if depth and breadth in terms of chronological and geographical areas are compromised through restructuring. This would be a reputational and intellectual loss to the University given the external recognition of excellence in Modern Languages and beyond. Could you, for example, focus on supporting Admissions and relevant ambassador programmes for languages, as recommended by the British Academy to enhance take up? We urge the management at UEA to recognise the intrinsic, cultural and economic value of degrees in Modern Languages, and extended access to language learning to staff and students across the institution via University-wide language programmes, and will be happy to provide further information on current developments in the sector to support this advice and indeed to meet to discuss further.”

UEA UCML letter of support

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