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UCU rally to defend modern languages at University of Aberdeen

12 December 2023

Staff and students from the University of Aberdeen took part in a rally last night to defend modern languages at the university.

The rally was organised by the University of Aberdeen branch of the University and College Union (UCU) and Aberdeen University Students Association and held in New Kings Buildings on the university's campus.  It took place as over 12,000 people have signed a petition calling on the university's senior managers to rethink their plans. 

On 30 November university senior managers announced a consultation to cut the provision of modern languages, including proposing ending modern language degrees.  Last week, the university's senate, the body in charge of academic matters in the university, demanded that the consultation be halted until they had the opportunity to consider the academic impact of the proposed cuts.

The union, which disputes the need for cuts, is consulting with members on their next steps to defend modern languages and jobs. 

Speakers at the rally included UCU general secretary, Jo Grady; UCU Aberdeen's Professor Nadia Kiwan; modern language student and vice-president for education at Aberdeen University Students Association, Rhiannan Ledwell; North-East Scotland MSPs Maggie Chapman and Kevin Stewart, and Councillor Simon Watson; and Sorcha Kirker from the UCU branch at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Speaking at the rally UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: "Teaching and research in modern languages is an integral part of a university.  These plans could leave Aberdeen as the only ancient university in the UK to not offer modern language degrees which says much about management at University of Aberdeen, and their lack of ambition for the university and North-East Scotland.  We know from the many interventions from European consulates, politicians, professional bodies, staff and senators, and from students that modern languages at Aberdeen is valued and that the staff that deliver that work should be invested in rather than face losing their jobs.  UCU negotiators will be engaging in the consultation process to save jobs and to save modern languages at the university.

"I said two weeks ago when the university announced these plans that what they were proposing amounted to 'academic vandalism'.  It's not just Aberdeen, we're also seeing attacks at Oxford Brookes, Staffordshire and other universities; in total over a dozen institutions.

"I've seen nothing over the past two weeks to change my mind that this is academic vandalism and that's why we're fighting back in Aberdeen and elsewhere and why we've set up a local defence fund so that no member or branch stands alone."

AUSU vice-president (education), Rhiannon Ledwell, said: "Our entire community of students, academics and professional staff, as well as the wider students' community of NUS Scotland, are united in this. We have 11,800 people and counting behind us who have signed our petition. We have united politicians across party lines. This is Scotland united against 6 people sitting in a room trying to decide our future, and university management has another thing coming if they think we will sit here quietly. We call upon Court to stop this consultation immediately, and to ensure that it does not, under any circumstance, delegate its responsibility to UOA management in this matter."

North East MSP, Maggie Chapman  said:  "I am very concerned about proposals to close model languages courses at the University of Aberdeen. I think it sends exactly the wrong message for what should be the comprehensive university for the North East of Scotland. The University of Aberdeen has a civic duty to the city and to the wider region to be an institution that covers all academic disciplines, providing rigorous and really important degree programs for students from the region, and equipping the next generation with the skills and tools that are going to be so necessary as we try to deal with the global crises we face.  

"I also feel for all those members of staff who received notices of redundancy in the run-up to Christmas. University management should feel shame for the way they have treated them and their students.     When the university court meets tomorrow it must to listen to the voices of staff and students alike - closing languages degree programmes is the wrong decision."

Professor Nadia Kiwan said: "Modern Languages, Translation and Interpreting staff and students stand united in their desire for a deep commitment to Modern Languages research and teaching as the historic, current and future foundation of the pursuit of interdisciplinary, international and inclusive knowledge that underpins the University of Aberdeen's mission."

UHI UCU branch representative, Sorcha Kirker, said: "It is devastating to see another blatant attack on humanities in our education sector. The proposed cuts would severely disadvantage students in the north and northeast of Scotland, forcing them to have to leave their region to pursue this area of study. Having recently gone through our own devastating compulsory redundancies process at the University of the Highlands and Islands, the UHI UCU branch stands in solidarity with Aberdeen UCU and urges all parties to come together and find a better way forward for the staff and students."

Last updated: 12 December 2023