Letter from FBA

Dear Vice-Chancellor

As Fellows of the British Academy active across a variety of Arts subjects we are writing to express our concern at the proposals for deep cuts in academic and academic related staff at the University of Manchester, planned to fall with particular severity in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures and to be achieved if necessary by compulsory redundancies. We understand that from a pool of 104 staff in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, 35 posts are to be cut. Given the healthy financial state of the University, the timing of these plans seems particularly ill-judged and liable to inflict long-term damage to the morale of staff and students. The management claim that a programme of staff cuts will improve research and ‘enhance the student and staff experience’ is absurd.

 

We are particularly concerned at the likely impact on Modern Languages. The British Academy has in recent years devoted special attention to languages as a key vehicle towards understanding other societies, their histories and cultures. In 2016 a high-level roundtable discussion on The Future of Languages at Universities addressed the widespread closure of university language departments and degree programmes, which has left provision mainly located in pre-1992 universities, and the Russell Group in particular. Given that it will take time to arrest the decline in language learning in secondary schools, there is a danger that decisions in single institutions will result in languages becoming even more concentrated in a few universities, and leave whole regions of the country with little or no provision. Accordingly, it is deeply shocking that the University of Manchester, one of the most important of the Russell Group universities and a notable centre of Modern Languages with a long and illustrious history, should choose to embark at this point in time on such a damaging policy. A great civic university in a great city should surely be concerned by the changing socio-economic profile of school pupils and undergraduates studying languages. Buoyant in the independent sector, language learning is in decline in the state sector. The Manchester plans for cuts take no account of the need to encourage recruitment across a wide social range, nor of the national need for language skills. Numerous reports from the British Chambers of Commerce and the British Council, as well as the British Academy stress the cost to the British economy of the lack of language skills. Students of modern languages are highly employable. For example, in 2014-15 (the most recent figures available), 80.6% of German graduates from Manchester were in positive graduate destinations. So claims that students of Modern Languages are less able or less employable than those elsewhere in the University are not borne out by the evidence. The university sector is constantly enjoined to contribute to a skills economy. The Arts in general and Modern Languages in particular provide crucial skills in a modern economy.

 

The UK is currently engaged in negotiating to leave the EU. The University of Manchester is home to a German Department dating back to 1851, arguably the very first to be set up in the UK; it has had a Chair of Italian since 1919 and an equally long and distinguished tradition in French Studies. That it should choose this moment to embark on a damaging assault on learning the languages that offer access to the cultures of our nearest neighbours is truly deplorable. Language students and students engaged in the Arts constitute groups of people who can keep open the channels of communication and cultural cooperation with our European neighbours. We urge you to withdraw these plans and restore support for the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Professor Celia Britton, Chair of Modern Languages, Literatures and other Media

Professor Michael Moriarty, Chair of Early Modern Languages and Literatures

 

Professor Dawn Ades CBE

Professor Sydney Anglo

Professor Isobel Armstrong

Professor Rosemary Ashton OBE

Professor Derek Attridge

Professor John Barrell

Professor Roderick Beaton

Dame Gillian Beer DBE, FRSL

Professor Michael Bell

Dr James Binns

Professor Elizabeth Boa

Professor Rachel Bowlby

Professor Nicholas Boyle

Professor Stella Bruzzi

Professor Gordon Campbell

Professor Ian Christie

Professor Stefan Collini

Professor Steven Connor

Professor Cairns Craig OBE, FRSE

Professor Robert Crawford

Professor Brian Cummings

Professor Trevor Dadson

Professor Ingrid de Smet

Professor Richard Dyer

Professor Peter France FRSE

Professor Simon Franklin

Professor Anne Fuchs

Professor Paul Gilroy

Professor Robert Gordon

Professor Richard Gray

Professor John Haffenden

Professor Paul Hammond

Professor Leslie Hill

Professor Marian Hobson CBE

Professor Andrew Hook FRSE

Professor Michael Hunter

Professor Lorna Hutson

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