Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Tuesday, 26 May 2009 12:59 UK

Language degrees to be reviewed

Edinburgh students
Edinburgh students say the cuts will affect teaching

England's higher education funding council is to review the health of language provision amid concern about cuts to university courses' budgets.

Several have had reduced funding for languages following an assessment of research by the funding council.

Oxford University said its modern languages budget had been cut by £1m for the year 2009-10.

In Scotland, too, students at Edinburgh University will protest over cuts which they say threaten two languages.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), which will announce the study this week, said there would be a major review of language provision in universities throughout England, to report in September.

It will be led by vice-provost of University College London, Professor Michael Worton, and will make recommendations to the government aimed at the "long-term sustainability and vitality of modern foreign languages".

The Westminster government has made it a priority to ring-fence money for science and engineering subjects in higher education.

Funding allocations made after last year's Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) reflect this.

The RAE decided universities' share of £1.5bn in research funding.

A spokesman for Hefce said more money had been allocated to both humanities and science subjects after the assessment exercise, but that science and engineering had benefited more.

He said money was provided to universities in a "block grant" and institutions were responsible for their own strategic decisions.

Anxiety

A spokeswoman for Oxford University said there was "an element of disappointment" that the high rating given to its modern languages teaching had not translated into increased funding or even equivalent funding to last year.

The university was "reviewing how it would deal with the financial challenge", she said.

Aspects of Hefce review
Recent policy and the impact of investment
Demand for and destination of graduates
Research performance of language departments
Whether provision meets future economic needs
Impact of emerging economies on language provision
Source: Hefce

In London, a protest against cuts at the languages and humanities department of Imperial College is being arranged for 3 June and students have set up a group on social networking site Facebook.

The Scottish Funding Council allocates money to Scottish universities, though it also uses the results of the UK-wide RAE as a basis.

Students at Edinburgh University say the cuts there will bring "proper language teaching to a disastrous end".

The Edinburgh University Students' Association said Russian and Portuguese were immediately under threat.

It said the decrease in funding would mean the termination of contracts for foreign language assistants, leaving students without essential oral tuition.

"This has massive implications for anybody doing a language degree at Edinburgh, and for the reputation of the university in the future," the association said.

But April McMahon, vice-principal and head of the faculty of humanities and social science, said there were no plans immediately to cut provision in any particular language and neither courses nor contact hours with foreign language assistants would be cut in 2009-10.

She said in a statement that students' anxiety was "entirely understandable".

"All subject areas in the school are currently writing plans which we will consider at the end of June, and consultation is proceeding with staff and students as to the best ways of maintaining excellence in teaching while managing the current financial situation," she said.

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