Letter from AFLS

The original version of the letter can be accessed here.

Letter to the Senior Management of Manchester University in support of colleagues under threat of redundancy, including all in French Studies

Dear Colleagues,

As representatives of The Association for French Language Studies, we were surprised by the recent announcement of the M2020 project and the planned redundancies of 35 academics out of a pool of 104 in the School of Arts, Languages and Communication. We wish to contest this ill-advised decision both in the institutional context of Manchester and the national context.

Let us start with a local argument. The current developments seem at odds with the healthy financial position of the University, the prestigious academic profile of many SALC members, the sustained number of students – particularly in French – despite a recent increase in the entry levels which constitutes a remarkable achievement in the current climate of steady decline in the number of applicants with language A-levels.

It is claimed that the M2020 project aims to make Manchester University one of the 25 top universities worldwide, a worthy endeavour no doubt. However, we struggle to understand how this could result in staff redundancies, particularly in a dimension pertaining to “worldwide-ness”, i.e. languages.

Your brief to SALC colleagues mentions that the rise of entry requirements would translate into a reduction in student numbers. Yet, this claim is belied by the sustained recruitment in French over the last couple of years despite extremely high entry grades. In addition, the plan states that the cut in staff would not result in any decrease in the breadth and depth of offerings. This is clearly impossible as each individual member of staff brings their unique expertise to the programme and losing one third of the staff would provoke a significant reduction in the available pool of knowledge. The parallel claim that a potential decline (yet to be seen) in student numbers would proportionally reduce staff input presents major flaws; while there would be a reduction in marking and student support, the preparation and delivery of modules would remain unchanged. Clearly, the reduction of staff can only impact negatively on student experience and threaten important elements of rankings, for instance a deterioration in staff/ student ratio.

We also note that Manchester students have expressed their dismay at investments being made in infrastructure rather than in their highly costly training, and we trust the university is aware of the weight of student voice.

In addition to the detrimental effect on students, major staffing cuts will badly affect academics at many levels. Reduced staff combined with unchanged offerings would inevitably mean an increase in teaching-related activities and result in a reduction of research time, which would be detrimental to Manchester’s reputation and seriously hinder its international ambitions. The situation is also likely to have a highly detrimental effect on staff morale and we can only deplore the suddenness of the announcement to staff… We also note that the reform is coupled by plans to appoint 100 junior appointments. While welcoming opportunities for young researchers, we firmly believe that the experience of senior staff, however more expensive it may be, is indispensable to maintain teaching standards and ensure that knowledge and experience exchanges within staff continue.

The proposed plans also have negative impact beyond Manchester University. In an uncertain post-Brexit climate, slashing investments in modern languages only reinforces the image of inwardness projected by Britain abroad. This is unlikely to serve Manchester University’s international ambitions.

Given the financial health of the university, the obvious detrimental effects of the project on students, staff and ultimately the university international ambitions, the AFLS urge MU senior management to reconsider their unilateral decision and to consult with all concerned parties for creative solutions that will benefit all.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Emmanuelle Labeau
Aston University
AFLS Vice-President UK Affairs

Dr Henry Tyne
Université de Perpignan
AFLS President


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