Planned staffing cuts that will hit modern languages teaching and research at Britain’s largest university should be scrapped, a group of senior academics have warned in a letter to the Guardian.
The plan to shed as many as 35 jobs from the University of Manchester’s school of arts – a third of its strength – would do harm to the UK in the long-run, they said. It is part of a move to cut more than 100 academic and professional support roles.
“A proposal to shed linguists and cross-cultural experts is clearly against the best interests of the UK, now more than ever as we face the economic and societal complexities of leaving the EU,” 15 senior representatives for modern languages in the UK wrote.
“If it pushes through its plans regardless, the University of Manchester will in the medium and longer term do the UK a great disservice. In the short term it will send a powerful and ill-timed signal about the perception of the value of European languages and cultures.”
Earlier this month, it emerged that the university planned to cut 171 jobs across the faculties of arts, languages, biology, medicine and business. It said it needed to invest in other priorities and blamed global competition and cuts to funding, among other factors, for its decision.
But critics accused the institution of simply seeking excuses to cut staffing. The University and College Union (UCU), which represents lecturers and researchers, said it saw “no economic rationale for jobs cuts on such an enormous scale”. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, Manchester University recorded a £59.7m surplus for the year in 2015-16, after a £19.6m deficit the year before. It also held reserves of nearly £1.5bn, including £430m in cash.
The signatories to the letter added: “It is worth recalling that over £3m has been awarded to Manchester precisely to support and encourage research in modern languages 2016-2020.”
They said that there was a false perception that students recruited to study modern languages at the university were of “lower quality students than the Russell Group tariff average”.
The academics wrote: “We have not seen hard evidence of this claim; we do know that modern languages at Manchester have a stellar reputation nationally and internationally, and that the areas targeted for radical reduction have excellent student ratings for teaching quality as well as very significant research power.
“Recent harsh marking in modern languages A-levels has led to a mistaken perception of applicants as being of ‘lower quality’; and at a time when there is a clear need to stimulate recruitment for modern languages across higher education, we urge the university to address the issue positively and proactively in the context of a proven and urgent need for graduates with languages in the UK.”
Manchester University has been contacted for comment.