The University of Bradford is closing its MA programme in interpreting and translation in what is likely to be the final blow for its modern languages department.
An e-petition protesting against the move had attracted almost 1,400 signatures as Times Higher Education went to press, and the Association of University Professors and Heads of French (AUPHF) has written to the university expressing deep concern.
In 2003, faced with flagging recruitment, the university decided to subsidise the department for four years. Geoff Layer, pro vice-chancellor for learning and teaching, said: "That four years has now come to an end. Undergraduate recruitment has declined further since then, and recruitment to the translation MA has stayed steady at 50 per cent of target, or 14 students."
The university closed undergraduate recruitment in 2006 and last year suspended recruitment to the masters programme. It is developing a new languages strategy, and the structure of language provision will be decided after that. "We consider it fundamentally important that students have an opportunity to study modern languages," Professor Layer said.
But a University and College Union spokesman at the university said the closure of the MA would "inevitably lead to a de facto closure of the existing department. We've not yet been made aware of the initiation of a new staff reduction process in modern languages, but it is clearly only a matter of time."
The AUPHF believes that Bradford should continue to subsidise the department, possibly with help from the Government, given the importance of translation services to the country.
In a letter to Mark Cleary, the vice-chancellor of Bradford, Lucille Cairns, the president of the AUPHF, said: "All members of senior management know that numbers on university courses can fluctuate from year to year. But it is vital to eschew short-termism and, where necessary, to commit resources to reinvigorating advertising and recruitment methods, given the urgent and widely recognised need for trained interpreters and translators." She asked Professor Cleary to "reconsider withdrawing a course of vital importance for the future economic and political health of the UK".
The e-petition, set up by a student on the Bradford MA, calls on the Prime Minister to save language provision in higher education. "Allowing these departments to close will be detrimental to the Government's long-term language objectives," the petition pointed out.