By Oliver Farrimond
HUNDREDS of angry students protested in Edinburgh today (mon) over proposed budget cuts to Edinburgh University’s modern languages teaching.
Joined by Shirley Ann Somerville MSP and a host of university staff, a noisy crowd waving signs and banners gathered outside the university’s Old College, where officials were due to meet student representatives later in the afternoon.
The protest, backed by staff, is over cuts worth £400,000 to be made over two years to modern languages, which could see subjects such as Russian and Portuguese disappear completely.
Fears were also expressed that the cuts, coupled with the current economic climate, could claim valuable courses and staff jobs at the prestigious university’s languages department.
Adam Ramsay, president of the university’s student association, said: “This is exactly time that we should be learning more foreign languages, to build our relationships with Europe and the rest of the world during this time of economic difficulty.
“This has happened because of a failure to invest in growing our language provision by both the university and the government.
“With today’s protest we’re hoping to see an increase in investment for the teaching of foreign languages, rather than damaging cuts that have come as a result of a failure to properly invest.
“We’ve seen over the years that when students make their voices heard, it is possible for them to win change, and with the current economic climate and terrible jobs market for graduates, politicians are going to see more and more student protests, and they should be worried about that.”
Similar cuts have already hit universities across the UK, with Oxford University and Kings College in London both suffering cutbacks to their languages teaching.
Scottish universities, including Dundee and Strathclyde, have also been the victim of difficult budgetary decisions as universities frantically try and protect their science teaching by scaling back funding for humanities.
April McMahon, vice-principal and head of the College of Humanities at Edinburgh University, was keen to play down fears, saying that there were currently no plans to axe vital courses.
She said: “The School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, in which language teaching is concentrated, does indeed face financial challenges, and some anxiety about the situation is entirely understandable.
“However, the College and the University remain committed to the intrinsic value of teaching and research across a wide range of languages.
“All subject areas in the School are currently writing plans which we will consider at the end of June, and consultation is proceeding with staff and students as to the best ways of maintaining excellence in teaching while managing the current financial situation.”
She added that there were no plans to cut any planned courses for the 2009-10 academic year, or to reduce the quality of teaching at the university’s language department.