For immediate release
~ More than the entire modern languages department have come out in opposition ~
Students and staff at The University of Birmingham are working to oppose the compulsory redundancy of 12 staff in the university’s Department of Modern Languages. Most at risk are language teaching staff, many of whom are native speakers. University management state that these plans are part of attempts to “develop its provision in response to student feedback.” However, over 1000 students and alumni, representing half the college, have signed letters and petitions expressing opposition to the proposals. With 32 staff members at risk, students raise a number of concerns related to the future quality of language teaching as well as the effects of the plan on staff morale and welfare.
The proposed job losses would result in the total discontinuation of Basque and Galician in undergraduate programmes from 2016/17. Much of the rest of the language teaching offered by the department would be covered by research staff, rather than specially trained teaching staff.
Many students are not impressed by the promise of new facilities. “New facilities are of next to no value to students without enough teaching staff to enable best use of them,” explained Rachel Elkin in her letter to senior management. “It seems that University management fail to grasp the incredible importance of specialist teaching staff,” continued Elkin, a second year undergraduate studying Spanish and Russian. “At the end of the day, it is talented and dedicated teaching staff who have the biggest positive impact on students and their degrees.”
Viveca Knapp, a final year student, continued “being able to learn from native speakers is an invaluable experience… and is one of the many reasons that Birmingham’s language teaching is currently exemplary.”
Students received less than 24 hours notice of an initial consultation meeting regarding the proposal. “This is unacceptable and completely belies claims that the University values student opinions,” said Elkin. Students have raised concerns that future consultations are due to take place at a time of year where students have much of their time occupied by coursework, revision, and exams.
Senior management have communicated to staff that any comments they wish to make about the plans must go through a change management group, preventing them from speaking directly with students about the issue. In a quote from the letter picked up by Private Eye, the University asserted that “No one’s interests are served by open discussion.” On several occasions the student newspaper Redbrick has removed from its website an article covering the campaign against the restructuring, for reasons which remain unclear.
While unable to discuss these plans with their students, staff have been placed in direct competition with each other for the teaching positions that will still be available next year. “The University has created an extremely stressful and hostile work environment which will undoubtedly have a significant negative impact on staff members,” contended Elkin.
The languages department is not the University’s only target. 51 staff members are at risk in Engineering, with a further 5 in Hydrogeology and 2 in Neuroscience/Pharmacology. There has been an indicative ballot on strike action within Birmingham UCU that received overwhelming support. Negotiations are ongoing.
[Edits: 19:30 9th March, counted number of signatures rose from 600 to 850
13:30 11th March, number rose to >1000]
Editor’s note: More information on the current situation at the University, and the state of the campaign, can be found at www.resisttherestructuring.wordpress.com
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