Dear Vice Chancellor,
We, the undersigned students of Modern Languages at the University of Birmingham, are writing to express our shock and concern at the proposals to “increase the proportion of research-active staff in the Department, while decreasing the proportion of teaching-only staff”.
Naturally, no University of quality is without a strong Modern Languages Department. A University of the standing of Birmingham has in addition always had a right to be proud of the diversity and varied strengths represented by its own School of Modern Languages. Apart from Birmingham, only Liverpool has a Basque center; only Bangor and Oxford offer Galician. The threatened proposed staff reductions will reduce student options, impact on Departmental morale, put increasing pressure on remaining staff, and certainly have the effect of making us think twice about recommending study at Birmingham to younger siblings and friends.
‘Research-led teaching’ is of course one valid component of a Department’s offerings, although subject-matter knowledge does not equate to gifted educators. However a Modern Language degree is a hybrid, and within it, the teaching of language to a high level requires particularly excellent and specific pedagogy, far from a given when a staff member’s personal research concerns this or that cultural or historic icon. We are particularly concerned by the assumption that research staff will be expected to carry out the entirety of language teaching, in the place of current language-teaching specialist staff. Not to mention the fact that language acquisition is a specialist field in itself, many of these teachers are native speakers of the taught language. Being able to learn from native speakers is an invaluable experience that we have been lucky enough to benefit from, and is one of the many reasons that Birmingham’s language teaching is currently exemplar.
While we understand that the 16 awarded under 4* for Overall Profile in the 2014 REF will have been disappointing, it cannot for obvious reasons be laid at the feet of teaching-only staff. Reducing the number of such staff, furthermore, would only require the Department to make further language-teaching demands on those research-active staff hoping to raise that Profile.
We thank you for reading this and would respectfully ask you to consider what seem like hasty, destructive and wrong-headed cuts.
This open letter has been signed by over 150 people at the time of publishing.