What do two Nobel Prize Winners, the Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University and a Professor of English at Yale have in common with the students of Swansea? It sounds like the run up to some sort of joke with a hilarious punch-line… “Two Nobel Prize Winners walk into JCs…”
The common thread is actually one very simple word; languages. More specifically, Modern Foreign Languages. You might remember pre-Sabbatical election madness, my post about the fight for Modern Foreign Languages being far from over, but now the clock is ticking and D-Day is on our doorstep. Tomorrow, Monday the 28th, Swansea University’s Council is to vote on whether to cut the Modern Foreign Languages Department in half. If the proposals pass, 22 posts will become 10, you may as well say goodbye to Italian at Swansea University and Spanish, French and German will no longer retain their reputations for excellence.
Those mentioned above are just three of the 3,000 signatures found on the petition to save Modern Foreign Languages at Swansea University. Scan the petition, and something becomes unavoidably clear; it’s not just students who are angry about these cuts. Prominent figures from the rest of the academic world have voiced their support publicly, from Nobel Prize Winners Herta Müller and Elfriede Jelinek to Lord Kenneth O. Morgan, a former Swansea lecturer turned Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth. Even voices from across the pond have spoken up, as Caryl Phillips, Professor of English at Vale, adds her signature to the myriad of those found on the petition.
Yet another esteemed academic has spoken up against the cuts. Professor David Crystal is one of the world’s leading experts on languages and an early signatory of the petition. Recently he’s gone one step further and made an impassioned plea to the University Council:
“Wales is a role model for many in its concern for language and languages, and in the success of its bilingual policy. It will not only be Swansea University’s image that will be harmed if these cuts are allowed to go ahead, but the country’s reputation as a place where languages are given the respect and support they need to thrive.
Next week I travel to Spain for a conference on language teaching. It has always been possible for me to hold up Wales as a role model in relation to modern language teaching and learning. When they ask me, as they will, how things are in Wales, what am I to tell them? I would like to be able to say that Welsh universities, despite the tremendous financial pressures they face, are nonetheless determined to maintain their support for languages. Swansea’s decision is going to affect all of us. I hope the University Council’s decision is not going to make us feel ashamed.”
Swansea University risks embarrassing us on an international scale on the very same day First Minister Carwyn Jones visits the university to talk about “Global Wales”. The only thing global about this situation is the fact that the signatories hail from over 30 countries in 5 different continents. How is it possible to promote a ‘Global Wales’ when the highest level of education can’t even be bothered to foster their languages departments?
It’s not only humanities students who stand to lose out. A recent survey conducted as a part of the Language for All programme made it abundantly clear that students from other degree schemes, such as Business and Engineering, wanted the opportunity to follow language courses, with a whopping 97% saying they’d be up for learning a language. This isn’t about Sciences vs. Humanities, this is about something which could lead to the Sciences losing out massively as well.
When it was announced back in December that the meeting would be postponed until March, I had a feeling the university would choose a time between Sabbatical elections and Varsity, and they haven’t proven me wrong. I wonder if they thought that perhaps we couldn’t be bothered to make any effort after the hectic week that’s passed. Or perhaps they think we’re too busy planning to get pissed at Varsity to bother making some sort of statement. If they thought that, they’ve made a grave misjudgement. I call on any and all students to gather at 3p.m Monday afternoon outside of the Abbey to make a stand against this gross misjudgement. If we show that enough students are angered by this, then we have a far better chance to sway the Council’s vote. Let’s not allow Swansea University to become linguistically ignorant.