Anonymous letter

To view a copy of the original, click Anonymised letter to Manchester VC

 

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell

President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Manchester

Office of the President and Vice-Chancellor

University of Manchester

Oxford Road

Manchester M13 9PL

 

20/05/2017

Dear Dame Nancy

I write to add my own voice of protest and disbelief to the many you are doubtless receiving in light of recently announced ‘M2020’ plans to make severe cuts to the staffing in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures and beyond. […] I find it difficult to believe that an institution of Manchester’s proven quality and reputation is prepared to reduce its provision in Modern Languages in particular and to risk its high academic standing by shrinking the provision of established areas of undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and thus almost inevitably adversely affecting the world-class research that comes from Manchester in these disciplines.

Manchester boasts a highly-respected body of language departments for whom the profession at large holds huge admiration. (The considerable output of internationally significant scholarship generated by your German Department is beyond dispute, and there is not space here to name all the highly-acclaimed personnel; this is, in any case, not a letter of special pleading for individuals but one of alarm at the possible damage being inflicted on a skilled team of modern linguists.) Not only is the academic distinction of colleagues undisputed, but the dedication and skill of your teaching team is clearly the major factor in producing excellent results year after year, both in undergraduate and postgraduate teaching as well as in research. Regrettably, the profession at large only has access to the information that is made available on your website. At first sight, it seems puzzling that this scale of hoped-for staff reductions can be announced whilst also expecting ‘100+ new, early-career academic appointments’ to be made.

Modern Languages is a teaching-intensive subject with a recognized need for smaller-group teaching and is doubtless a little more expensive to deliver. It is also widely known that the marking of A-Levels in Modern Languages has been comparatively harsh, and that this fact does much to discourage school students from pursuing Modern Languages beyond GCSE. But measures are now being introduced at secondary school level to try to address this. I understand that Manchester’s recruitment to German degrees in 2017 is, in any case, strong and that the university regularly welcomes over 60 undergraduates each year. I can only speak with authority about the schemes in my own subject area of German Studies and know that Manchester has an outstanding track record in providing intellectually rigorous teaching programmes that produce high-calibre graduates who, in addition to excellent language skills, possess a deep, historical understanding of German and European Politics and Cultures. Surely, these are skills that the sector wishes to foster and are very much in line with the international-facing mission statements of top universities. Moreover, with the United Kingdom now facing ‘Brexit’, the economy needs linguists and interculturally trained graduates as we encounter the economic and social difficulties of leaving the European Union. In terms of the employability of Manchester’s graduates, I understand that with 80.6% of German graduates from Manchester in positive graduate destinations six months after completion, this subject is higher than the School’s or the Faculty’s average.

These are not, of course, easy times in Higher Education, but I urge Manchester’s management team to reconsider the drastic measures proposed and to work instead with colleagues to foster new initiatives and to find more gradual and sustainable ways of achieving any necessary restructuring. I am grateful to you for registering our concerns. [Along] with many senior colleagues who are involved in research projects, conferences, impact and engagement activities with Manchester, I too hope that the large-scale staff reduction of ‘M2020’ can be reconsidered.

 

Yours sincerely

 

This letter is reproduced here anonymously, but with the permission of the sender.

 

  1. Professor Keith Brown (Dean of Humanities); Professor Alessandro Schiesaro (Head of School of Arts, Languages and Cultures; Edward Astle (Chair of the Board of Governors)

 

Letter from Professor Anne Fuchs

Below you will find a copy of a letter sent to Edward Astle, Chair of the Board of Governors on 16th May 2017, by Professor Anne Fuchs from the University College Dublin. To see the letter in its original format click Edward Astle.

 

Dear Mr Astle,

 

16 May 2017

 

I am writing to express concern at current plan to cut more than 100 academic posts at the University of Manchester. These drastic measures seem to especially target the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, where 35 posts are to be cut. Apparently, all academic staff members in French and German Studies have been told that their jobs are at risk.

I am deeply shocked to learn that a leading Russell group university which, according to press reports, appears to be in a healthy financial position should embark on a programme of cuts that will diminish its reputation nationally and internationally. There seems to be no or little recognition of the contribution by Modern Language disciplines to education: the graduates of Modern Languages combine the critical thinking of the humanities subjects with in-depth historical knowledge, highly desirable language skills and intercultural understanding. Surely, in times of worrying populism and widespread ignorance about Europe and its institutions these competencies need to be harnessed rather than abandoned. The British Academy, the British Chamber of Commerce and the British Council are rightly concerned about declining language programmes at British universities. The British Academy is currently scoping a series of roundtables exploring the future of languages at UK universities.

As a German Studies scholar I also wish to emphasize that the German department at Manchester enjoys an excellent national and international reputation. Several of its current and former staff members have served as External Examiners in Irish universities, while also making outstanding contributions to important national and international fora. In terms of research and scholarship the Department is considered a leading centre of German Studies in the UK. Our colleagues in Manchester are working on urgent issues such as the literature of migration, diasporic cultures, translation and intercultural studies – areas that will become ever more important in the aftermath of Brexit. Manchester is an open-minded, outward-looking, diverse and multi-cultural city: surely the university wants to make its contribution to this great legacy by protecting the diversity of humanities subjects offered by the university.

The implementation of these ill-judged plans would set a terrible example in the context of the imminent Brexit negotiations which will require much intercultural understanding as well as considerable linguistic and diplomatic skills on all sides. I very much hope that the university management will withdraw these plans.

Yours sincerely Anne Fuchs

Professor Anne Fuchs, FBA, MRIA Director
Humanities Institute
University College Dublin

Letter from Sander L. Gilman

Sander L. Gilman is a distinguished professor of the Liberal Arts and Sciences as well as Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University, Atlanta. A cultural and literary historian, he is the author or editor of over ninety books and is well renowned in his field. Find below a copy of his letter in support of staff at Manchester. 

 

Dear Colleagues,

I am quite aware that we now exist in an age of short term goals and economic models that reenforce them.  As one who has had a decades long relationship with a number of departments at Manchester and for whom the earlier restructuring of the university was seen with great anticipation as creating a global university of the 21st century,  I am more than saddened by the precipitous reversal of course signaled by the radical cuts to the humanities and arts.  Not only are these vital for a functioning university no matter what the momentary state of student interest but, as we have recently seen at Yale, where history has become the most popular undergraduate subject (form being marginal just a few years ago) student interest also moves quickly and in directions that such short term planning can never recognize.

The closing of the German program is of especial concern to me as Manchester had one of the first and one of the most respected programs in the Anglophone world.  The level of scholarship and teaching in this program is widely respected and the closing the program at the moment before Brexit can only be seen as essentially short sighted, as it is clear that German will increase in importance as a field of study after Brexit where specialist knowledge of the language and culture of the major player in a newly reconstituted EU will be of even greater importance for the UK.

Yours truly,

Sander L. Gilman
Distinguished Professor of the Liberal Arts and Science;
Professor of Psychiatry
Emory University
Atlanta GA USA

 

 

Letter and response from David Midgley

David Midgley is an emeritus professor of German Literature and Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge. Below you will find a letter sent by David Midgley, a response from the university, and his subsequent reply which brilliantly takes apart the PMO’s arguments for the cuts.

18 May 2017 13:26

Dear Mr Astle,

I am writing in response to the news that broke last week of Manchester University’s plans to terminate the employment of 171 members of staff. Information that has reached me suggests that this decision is questionable on both financial and ethical grounds, and I would appeal to the senior management of the University to reconsider.

In particular, it has been reported that the intention is to eliminate many senior academics and replace them with younger, cheaper teaching staff. If this is true it suggests that not only the personal interests of the staff concerned, but also the benefits to the broader academic community of the experience and expertise of senior staff members are being sacrificed to short-term financial calculations. Such practices can only be detrimental to the general morale of an academic body.

As a linguist I take particular interest in the fact that academic staff in a number of language areas have been told that their jobs are at risk. This news alone can only contribute further to the progressive debilitation of language study at university level which has been a peculiar feature of higher education in England in recent years. The need for the UK to nurture home-grown in-depth expertise in foreign languages and cultures is often emphasised by the business community as well as by the British Council and the British Academy, and that need is likely to increase in the wake of Brexit, not decrease. To allow the decline in language study at degree level to continue in these circumstances is benighted, to encourage that decline is reprehensible. Unless there is compelling evidence that makes the phasing out of teaching in some specific area advisable I would urge the senior management of the University to rescind its decision with regard to language provision in particular.

Yours sincerely,
David Midgley


David Midgley
Emeritus Professor of German Literature and Intellectual History
St John’s College

Reply from the University M2020 Programme management office:

23rd May 2017 13:29, Manchester2020 wrote:

Dear Professor Midgley,

We appreciate the time that you have taken to contact us regarding the proposal to increase entry tariffs in the School of Arts Languages and Cultures (SALC).

As you are no doubt aware, student recruitment in Modern Languages has shown a steady and continuous decline across the UK for several years. This has impacted on the quality of students admitted and is in spite of strenuous recruitment efforts by the University – with consequences for student experience, degree attainment and employability which are inconsistent with the University’s commitment to excellence.
 
The M2020 proposals will enable SALC to improve the degree attainment, satisfaction and employability of students through improving student intake standards. It is because it is not possible to recruit adequate numbers of students of sufficient quality that we have developed these proposals, a consequence of which is that the staffing levels in these declining areas are no longer financially sustainable.

We are committed to a strong foundation for Modern Languages at The University of Manchester, with the current breadth and depth of subjects continuing to be offered. The School’s Disciplines of Modern Languages have many areas of strength in teaching and research, of which as an institution we are very proud.

By continuing to provide access to quality Modern Language courses, we aim to support the UK to overcome the current language skills gap and continue to arm our graduates with the language skills that will enable them to live and work abroad, and pursue their professional and cultural ambitions.

We can assure you that our prime intention is to ensure that our students receive the best possible teaching and learning experience.


With best wishes,

Programme Management Office
On behalf of President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell

Reply from David Midgley:

Dear PMO,

Thank you very much for your reply. Permit me to make three observations in response.

1. The fact that there has been a progressive decline in the study of languages at school level over the last thirty years does not in itself provide any indication of the quality of the students who are still opting to take a language at A level, nor of the calibre of applicants for language-based degree courses at Manchester. I recommend that you at
least give serious consideration to the review of Modern Foreign Languages at A level by the Joint Council for Qualifications, accessible at: 
http://www.jcq.org.uk/media-centre/news-releases/mfl-review-press-notice,
and the technical report of Ofqual on assessment in language A levels at
https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/74376196.pdf, both dating from 2014, which show why the grading of language A levels has probably been excessively harsh at the upper end of the scale since the introduction of the A* grade in 2009.

2. The aims of which you speak – “to improve the degree attainment, satisfaction and employability of students through improving student intake standards” – are recognisably related to the metrics prescribed for the TEF, and thereby suggest that you are willing to sacrifice the interests of experienced academic staff in order to obtain a material advantage in that competitive process as it is phased in. If that is the case, your decision has provided immediate evidence of how the TEF system will be open to gaming by institutions that is likely to do long-term damage to the higher education sector overall.

3. By looking to student intake standards to strengthen your competitive position in the TEF you have provided a very clear example of why the metrics devised for the TEF are inherently detrimental to the educational interests of the UK: they will do nothing to widen access to high-quality higher education for able students and will serve rather to
restrict it to those who already enjoy educational advantage.

Yours sincerely,
David Midgley

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

Open letter from members of staff from across the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester, 27th June 2017

Open letter from members of staff from across the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester, 27th June 2017;

To the senior leadership team:

We write to express our strong opposition to the measures announced by Prof. Dame Nancy Rothwell and Prof. Colin Bailey on 10 May in pursuit of the Manchester 2020 agenda. They state that ‘The University of Manchester has a bold ambition to be a world leading institution, with a reputation based on academic excellence.’ We share that ambition. However, we reject the arguments made to justify the proposed job cuts in our own School and elsewhere, and condemn the manner of their announcement.

We take issue with two attempts at justification in particular:

The Student Experience. The proposed ‘reduction of 35 academic posts and posts involved in primarily academic activities’ is in part driven by the belief that ‘[i]n the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, an increase in undergraduate student entry standards will lead to improved student experience and outcomes’ (President and Deputy President). However, we have seen evidence neither of a correlation between higher entry requirements and increased levels of student satisfaction, nor that higher entry tariffs will help the School to score more highly in the Teaching Excellence Framework. Indeed, in order to succeed in the TEF the University will need to demonstrate its ability to make high-achieving graduates out of more modestly successful school leavers. Furthermore, raising entry tariffs across the board is likely to hinder the institution’s capacity to deliver one of the core strategic goals of the M2020 strategy to which members of SALC are especially committed – Social Responsibility. Overly restrictive entry tariffs potentially present a barrier to access to education for people coming from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds.

‘Sustainable Excellence’. SALC is rightly proud of its international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Amidst current political and economic uncertainties, it is more important than ever ‘to safeguard the core mission of the University and its integrity as a collegiate community’, as the President and Deputy President put it. The announced job losses, the failure to consult with campus trade unions, and the designation of individual members of staff as ‘in scope’ will already have damaged the University’s reputation as an employer and its capacity to attract and retain the best-qualified staff in future, not least through its proposal to ‘create 100+ new, early-career academic appointments’ and ‘a £1million “Investing in Success” fund for existing staff’. Furthermore, we echo the dismay expressed by our PhD students and early career researchers who note the divisive nature of this exercise (‘Open letter from the PhD students and early career academics of the University of Manchester to the management’).

So far we have received no convincing explanation of why, given the relatively small savings that will be made by the proposed job cuts and the University’s current apparently sound financial position, these steps have to be taken. In any case, we consider the steps themselves to be brutal; they represent a further powerful blow to both the principle of collegiality and the institutional goodwill members of the School have always prided themselves on.

We call on the Senior Management Team of the institution to withdraw its threats to the job security of our colleagues, to consult with the UCU over its plans for the future in the appropriate manner, and to pursue the M2020 agenda in a way that fosters and encourages academic excellence, rather than through the draconian measures it is now pursuing.

 

Sincerely,

(Names omitted)