Language of closure

May 7, 1999

As ex-members of the School of English Language Education at Thames Valley University, we are appalled at its possible demise.

Its research record in the area of applied linguistics is second to none in the United Kingdom (having gained a 5 in the last research assessment exercise). The quality of teaching is also of high quality, having gained 22 in the 1996 teaching quality assessment.

TVU received damaging negative publicity in 1997 provoked by concerns about standards and quality. The subsequent review by the Quality Assurance Agency made quality the central issue.

What message is TVU trying to send when the department that received the highest quality rating in the institution (alongside sociology) is under threat of closure?

The issues, in fact, go well beyond this one institution and do a disservice to the new university sector. If quality seems to count for so little, who would go to such places except those who have little choice? How fair will it be for such people to be marked by harmful public perceptions of the institutions from which they have been awarded a degree? Many new universities have worked hard to maintain standards, to ensure high-quality teaching and to combine these with a research dimension. Does TVU have licence to ignore this?

We understand that in the action plan produced for TVU the School of English Language Education has been characterised as not fitting in. How can this be? The school contributes directly to TVU's stated mission. It contributes to the understanding of, respect for, and education of of Ealing's multicultural/multilingual community. Among other things, it provides access courses for students from overseas and the UK who have language difficulties. It offers a highly regarded MA programme on language in the multicultural community that recruits from ethnic minorities. The research for which the school is famous is concerned with language problems in the real world.

We thus find ourselves wondering why a new university like TVU would wish to cut off a limb that is not only highly functional but has enabled it to compete very favourably with the more established universities. TVU needs to justify its action in closing this department. It owes this to the new university sector, to its students and to the field of applied linguistics.

Ex-staff, School of English Language Education, TVU

Rod Ellis, University of Auckland, New Zealand; Kevin Germaine, St Mary's College, Strawberry Hill; Tricia Hedge, University of Warwick; Richard Kiely, University College Chichester; Alison Piper, University of Southampton; Pauline Rea-Dickins, University of Warwick; Catherine Wallace, Institute of Education, University of London

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