VC Update Issue 15
You may have seen media reports about the fall in demand by new
students studying languages at degree level resulting in big
changes at a number of universities. Despite our excellent teaching
quality in modern languages we have not been immune to these
pressures. Our application numbers have continued to be low which
has meant at times we have had to compete against many other
universities for students. The low student numbers and the need to
provide wide provision has however meant we have had to subsidise
our provision in this area by around £1m annually at the expense of
other course investment. I do not believe we are in the same
position as other universities since we have had the financial
resources and managed to scale back over the years thus pre-empting
large scale cuts in provision. The only way we can protect jobs is
to keep ahead of changes in the marketplace.
This year, following a 12 month comprehensive review process
involving external and internal staff, discussions at Academic
Board and the Board of Governors we will be ceasing recruitment to
three half degrees in French, Spanish and Chinese Studies. This is
because we have received acceptances from only 39 students across
our entire modern language provision, making half degrees in this
area unsustainable both financially and in terms of the student
experience. These changes will allow us to resource, protect and
maintain other teaching areas such as Linguistics and English
Language where student demand is buoyant and our research record
strong. Current students on closing half degrees will of course be
fully supported for the remainder of their studies and the decision
to stop 2009 intakes should in no way impact on their studies or
the value of their UWE Degree. Admissions have made personal
contact with each of the 39 prospective students who were
interested in UWE and studying languages. Of these 28 are actively
considering alternative study options at UWE. The others have still
to decide or are pursuing their studies at their insurance choice.
In all cases we are committed to supporting them to find the best
option for their future studies.
I and the University still regard languages as important,
especially in an international employment environment where
graduates will have to have an understanding of other languages and
cultures. Language provision of some kind will continue at UWE for
those students on UWE's other undergraduate and postgraduate
courses wishing to have a language to help them be more
Academic Board has recently debated this issue at length and
heard contributions from many colleagues including the head of
department. The Board recognised that this was not a position we
would have wanted to be in, and that the economics were against us.
The Board encouraged the idea of reinvigorating our UWE language
programme (ULP) and looking at how we might support minor options
and content to other degrees. They have also advised me on
improvements we can make in terms of engaging more in future
decisions on our academic provision.
This I accept as we can always do more to consult and engage.
However it is important that we all acknowledge the need to
continually review and refresh our academic offer and that this
should be built into our normal planning and review processes. We
will need to continually balance new growth against potential
decline in areas where the market is failing. The University and
Higher Education in general is moving into very challenging times
and we will need to be very market and customer aware if we are to
enhance and develop the University.
I hope however by anticipating the market in this way we can
manage our costs better and avoid more severe action in the future.
I want to reiterate that this is no reflection on our strong
reputation in this area, but due to falling demand, a sad
reflection on fewer students wishing to study languages and the new
competitive marketplace in which we operate nowadays.
In order to ensure that we co-create a sustainable future for
our language provison, the Department will continue to run for the
2009/10 Academic Year. I have asked Catherine Fletcher to work with
me and colleagues to create a viable future which recognises our
strengths and the market challenges we face. I am sure that we will
be able to find a creative way forward which is both academically
and financially viable.
You will see from the size of our monthly Bulletin that in May
we had a lot to say about our achievements, but I think it is worth
singling out that the recent newspaper league tables have all
reported our rise in the tables. This has been due to better
outcomes in our student satisfaction scores and last December's
RAE. Tariff on entry for our courses and other measures still hold
us back relative to our competitor institutions, but it is worth
noting that we now have 8 subject areas in the top 20 Times league
table relative to 6 last year, and that courses in Maths and
Philosophy have entered the top 10 in the Guardian.