VC Update Issue 15

posted 12.06.09

Modern Languages

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 employable.

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.

League Tables

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.

Steve

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