Earlier this year, the University of Nottingham announced significant cuts to some of its academic departments, including a significant cut in both funding and employees for the School of Culture, Languages and Area Studies (CLAS), which is responsible for the teaching and provision of Modern Languages degrees at the institution.
Despite being one of the most desirable skills for many employers, foreign language teaching in the UK is already under threat both at a University level and within schools and colleges. Recent studies have indicated a fall in both student and teacher numbers, with the number of students taking a foreign language at both GCSE and A level falling by around 20% since the 1990s.
The leaders of the Nottingham campaign say that the changes will result in a substantial reduction of teaching staff within the University’s languages department, equating to 11.5 full time staff positions as many languages staff are employed on so called ‘0.8’ contracts. Per language, it is claimed that this will lead to the loss of 4 job losses in the Department of German, 3 in the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies, and 2 in the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American studies. For a subject that requires regular contact and feedback from tutors to practice and perfect each element of the language, especially in relation to developing spoken language skills, the effect of these cuts can only be detrimental.
The Nottingham campaign, led by CLAS students, claims ‘staff were told not to communicate these changes, and there was no intention on behalf of management to inform students of the proposals‘. This is a worrying precedent to set in a sector that is reliant upon input from its students to climb the ranking tables and encourage the recruitment of future students. The students behind the campaign have also condemned the responses that they have received from staff at a number of meetings as evasive, and going back on a number of their previous pledges.
The wider effect that these changes could have is worrying. Foreign Language skills are essential for the UK as a country to be able to fully engage with International Diplomatic processes and the world at large. Despite the insistence of many that English is now all that is needed to get by and conduct deals within the world, in many areas being able to speak a foreign language opens up a wealth of opportunities that would not be available otherwise, both culturally and in economically important sectors such as trade and business. Although this a small, university level of change, it mirrors a wider trend – more needs to be done to encourage and preserve language learning within the UK, for the future of the country and its language students.