As senior representatives for modern languages in the UK, we are surprised and disturbed to hear that the University of Manchester plans to cut 35 posts in its School of arts, languages and cultures, alongside further jobs in business and in biology, medicine and health. Staff in German, French, Italian, Hebrew and Spanish have been told that their jobs are “at risk” because these areas supposedly recruit fewer and lower quality students than the Russell Group tariff average. 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 (see, for example, the British Chambers of Commerce and British Council reports).
It is worth recalling that over £3m has been awarded to Manchester precisely to support and encourage research in modern languages 2016-2020. The university signed a letter of support for modern languages which was received by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in connection with Manchester’s Open World Research Initiative (OWRI) application in 2015.
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. 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.
The university states that its plan is to “enhance the student and staff experience and improve research”. That seems an unlikely outcome of these cuts. Students of Manchester University are already expressing their profound concern, via (among other things) a Facebook campaign and a change.org petition. We share their concern, and urge the university to reconsider.
Professor Adrian Armstrong Acting President, Association of University Professors and Heads of French
Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett President, Philological Society
Professor Bill Burgwinkle President, Society for French Studies
Professor Janice Carruthers Professor of French linguistics, Queen’s University Belfast
Professor Tony Chafer President, United Kingdom Council for Area Studies Associations
Professor Sarah Colvin President, Association for German Studies
Emeritus Professor Malcolm Cook Chair, Modern Humanities Research Association
Professor Catherine Davies Director, Institute for Modern Languages Research
Martin Durrell Emeritus professor of German, University of Manchester
Professor Charles Forsdick James Barrow professor of French, University of Liverpool
Professor Michael Gratzke Chair, University Council of Modern Languages
Professor Claire Honess Chair, Society for Italian Studies
Dr Christopher Hood President, British Association for Japanese Studies
Professor Paul Starkey Vice-president, British Society for Middle Eastern Studies
Professor Isabel Torres President, Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland