Smothered voices

August 8, 1997

I support fully the sentiments expressed by Michael Kelly in Phil Baty's report on the funding crisis looming before departments of modern languages (THES, July 18). It seems perverse that the discipline is hit yet again, at precisely the juncture at which the expansion of the European Union and an activisation of Britain's role in world affairs would lead to a recognition of the value of native-English speakers with foreign language skills.

As a Russianist, thus representing one of the favoured "minority" languages, I regard as ludicrous the suggestion that my language, in terms of resources required for teaching, is different in kind from French, German or Spanish.

All modern languages at Bradford, and increasingly elsewhere, rely on a high level of specialist equipment and technical support. Surely, then, any distinction that is to be drawn between the provision of languages should be between the types of study involved.

For example, on our internationally recognised MA in interpreting and translating, approximately 70 per cent of student contact hours (be they in French, German, Spanish or Russian) is spent in highly specialised and very expensive interpreting laboratories, which are also used by our undergraduates.

How is one to make the case for replacing and upgrading such equipment if the block grant is to be eroded? And what will become of this country's ability to produce such skilled linguists if such provision is not made?

Indeed, I suspect that Higher Education Funding Council for England's remonstrations that the price groups for subjects were based on university "departmental expenditure returns" failed to take into account the sharp reductions in allocations for equipment to departments, especially modern languages, in the recent austerity drive.

Finally, it is high time to scotch the myth that a language degree alone is of little utility. On the contrary, language graduates, especially those from courses which emphasise such vocational skills as interpreting and translating, have an enviable record of progression (over 90 per cent of our graduates over the past five years have secured employment or continued their studies within six months of graduating). Employers confirm that few disciplines consistently produce such articulate, adaptable, motivated and presentable graduates.

John Russell

Head of modern languages University of Bradford

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