Euro-MPs have joined the battle to save two internationally-acclaimed language courses from closure because of Government cuts in student support.
England's only postgraduate combined translation and interpretation programmes at Bath and Bradford universities provide the European Parliament with almost all its English-language interpreters.
But a decision by Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, to scrap 50 bursaries worth up to Pounds 250,000 in total for translation courses, has left both schools struggling to find students who can pay. The cuts were announced before Christmas to trim 10 per cent off postgraduate funding.
Nine MEPs, who rely heavily on expert linguists to follow the contributions of their continental colleagues to parliamentary debates, have now written to Mrs Shephard calling for a rethink.
The schools had just secured agreements for expansion when they heard the news. The plans are now on ice and Bath has suspended its course for a year.
Michael Croft, course director at Bath, described the withdrawal of the bursary money as a "terrible blow". "We have been running since 1966, and we have never had more than two self-funded students on the course in any one year. An average of 90 per cent have been supported by bursaries. It is now highly unlikely we will be able to fill enough places to sustain the course in the coming year," he said.
Brian Griffiths, course director at Bradford, said the axeing of the bursaries was likely to cause students to join other courses.
"They have usually completed at least four years' undergraduate training, and have already accumulated large debts," he said.
Graham Watson, Liberal Democrat MEP for Somerset and North Devon, said the Government's move could plunge the languages services of the European Parliament into crisis.
"It seems the Government has not fully thought through the implication of cuts which may seem small, but could mean the end of these courses," he added.