UHI cuts six Gaelic posts

Dismayed funders question viability of institution's language-promotion mission. Hannah Fearn writes

April 14, 2011

A Scottish university with a mission to preserve and develop the Gaelic language has axed six posts in its Gaelic team, leaving non-speakers in charge of the strategy.

Among the positions cut by the University of the Highlands and Islands, which gained university status earlier this year, is that of its Gaelic manager.

The formal mission statement of the university is written in Gaelic and it is partway through the delivery of a five-year Gaelic language plan, which has included broadcasting Gaelic-language television advertisements in the region.

The job losses are part of an institution-wide process in the wake of government funding cuts. However, the university's Gaelic team has been hit particularly hard. Of eight posts that existed last year just two remain, one on an interim basis.

Four staff members, including Gaelic strategy development manager Anna Walker, have been made compulsorily redundant, while two posts will remain unfilled after staff left voluntarily.

Responsibility for delivering the Gaelic strategy has been passed to the heads and senior managers of the 13 colleges that make up the new university. It is understood that none of the heads of the constituent colleges are fluent Gaelic speakers.

Academics working at the institution told Times Higher Education that they were concerned that momentum on the strategy would be lost as a result. They said that the university's approach had set a "worrying precedent" for Scottish institutions in the process of drawing up their own Gaelic plans.

The foundation of the original Gaelic team at UHI was part-funded by organisations including Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the quango charged with responsibility for the promotion of the Gaelic language in Scotland. The organisations had been assured that financial contributions were seed funding for posts that would eventually be made permanent by the university.

John Angus MacKay, the chief executive of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, said the decision raised questions about the institution's future role as a hub for the Gaelic language.

"The assumption was that these posts would be subsumed within the organisation. We are disappointed, as UHI is very important to us. We had high hopes of it as a major promoter of the language. There is now a question mark in a lot of people's minds (about) its capacity to deliver," he said.

Mr MacKay added that he intended to meet with managers at the university to seek assurances that its Gaelic strategy could still be delivered.

A spokeswoman for UHI said the redundancies in the Gaelic team formed part of a total loss of 28 jobs at the university.

"We remain fully committed to Gaelic, as demonstrated in our teaching and research. We do not anticipate any significant impact on our ability to deliver the undertakings in the UHI Gaelic language plan," she said.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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