Reading staff blame languages cuts on ‘misguided vanity projects’

Staff hit out at ‘financial mismanagement’ as university announces plans to cut roughly a third of modern languages jobs

March 8, 2019
Reading bridge
Source: iStock

Staff at the University of Reading have claimed that they are being “made to pay for the glaring mistakes of incompetent senior managers” after the institution announced plans to cut around a third of jobs in the modern languages department.

A review group looking at the provision of modern languages at the university has recommended merging the department of modern languages and European studies with the institution-wide language programme – a move that will result in between 22 per cent and 35 per cent of jobs in the two departments being cut. There are currently 37.68 full-time equivalent members of staff across the two departments.

An article on the staff portal of the university website says that the suggestion was accepted by the university executive board and it is recommended the “new unified language unit” will launch on 1 August.

A document seen by Times Higher Education from the review group states that in April 2018 the department of modern languages and European studies had a deficit of around £500,000 and the recommendations could generate savings of £822,000 in 2019/20.

However, staff at the university argue that they are being made to “bear the brunt of financial mismanagement at a senior level”, while 27 students have written an open letter to acting vice-chancellor Robert Van de Noort claiming that the merger would lower standards at the institution.

Earlier this month, union members at Reading passed a motion of no confidence in the institution’s council and senior management; the motion accused the council of overseeing “mismanagement and poor investment and spending decisions in the past”.

Reading’s latest accounts recorded a £20 million deficit, largely down to problems with the university’s Malaysia campus, while The Guardian recently reported that Reading had reported itself to the Office for Students over a £121 million loan.

One member of staff at Reading, who wished to remain anonymous, acknowledged that modern languages departments were facing “unprecedented financial pressures and competition” but said that Reading “would not be in its current dire straits if it were not for the arrogance, incompetence, financial mismanagement and misguided vanity projects of its current and recent senior management”.

“Academic staff from across the university have long been warning [the executive board] of the folly of pursuing a ‘limitless’ student growth model in the face of glaring demographic evidence to the contrary, of throwing tens of millions of pounds...into a poorly researched, loss-making overseas campus, of valuing shiny new buildings over the core university business of teaching, research and student support – but they have repeatedly refused to listen,” the staff member said. “Now academics and students in ‘strategically important but vulnerable subjects’ are being made to pay for the glaring mistakes of incompetent senior managers.”

Another employee said that the “shrinkage” of the university’s modern languages provision was not a “credible solution” to the university’s concerning financial position and “seems very unwise” given that Brexit is on the horizon.

“In our view, this offloads the responsibility from management and makes hard-working teachers and researchers bear the brunt of financial mismanagement at a senior level,” the employee said.

A Reading spokesman said that the recommendation to merge the two departments was made to “ensure that the provision of language learning...is financially sustainable”, noting that the UK sector has seen “a decline in the take-up of modern languages over a number of years”.

“A new, merged department would allow us to create an internationally recognised centre of excellence in research and language teaching, develop new programmes to meet the evolving learning needs of a new generation of students, and offer staff the flexibility to enhance their research,” the spokesman said.

“This is only a recommendation at this stage, and will be presented to university council members for a final decision later this year following consultation with colleagues.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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