“Graduates fluent in modern languages play an important part in Northern Ireland’s attractiveness for direct foreign investment.” So says a report submitted earlier this year (10th March) by Ulster University to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
The report seems entirely at odds with management’s announcement that it will be cutting the provision of Modern Languages at the university.
Under the heading, ’Ulster University contribution to economic growth and job creation’, the report states:
Graduates fluent in modern languages play an important part in Northern Ireland’s attractiveness for direct foreign investment, and our credentials and leadership in teaching Chinese responds to the opportunity presented by the world’s fastest growing economy. Ulster University underpins the talent required for the new emerging industries locally, and ensures we are ready to meet the demands of the international marketplace.
The UU’s submission was received by the Assembly’s Inquiry into Economic Growth and Job Creation in a Reduced Tax Environment, which found that, “Whilst English is becoming the international language of business worldwide, competence in languages is becoming more sought after by companies looking to relocate.”
The full UU submission is available here. Modern Languages is mentioned in section 3.8.
Without meaningful consulation, the cuts and changes at the Ulster University will have unforseen consequences for courses, staff and the communities they serve. A colleague from Health Sciences has highlighted how moving Allied Health Professional (AHP) courses from the Jordanstown to Coleraine campus will have a disruptive and damaging impact up their teaching.
“The new Belfast campus was designed with AHP courses in mind. We contributed to the planning and design of bespoke facilities for our students. Will facilities like a practical room, speech and language facilities, OT rooms etc be provided in Coleraine?
“The Belfast site gives students access to clinical placements – our students undertake approximately five placements of six weeks each across the physio programme, although placement duration varies in the different programmes.
“Most clinical placements will be difficult to access for students from Coleraine. Students will either have to travel some distances or will be required to find accommodation. It is impossible to get short term lets in Belfast during the semester time. I’ve tried with international students! I have a real concern that we are placing students in a situation where they will be required to drive excessive distances .”
There are concerns regarding research also.
“Post-REF we were informed that collaboration with other institutions was essential, but moving the AHP professions miles from the main sites of medical research in The Belfast Trust, QUB, and the specialist services such as oncology, respiratory, is not going to facilitate that.”
Teaching will also be impacted upon.
“In the delivery of AHP courses it is essential to have the support and input from specialist clinical colleagues into the undergrad programmes. This is difficult enough with the pressures on clinical colleagues but the move to Coleraine will render this impossible .
“Likewise having patient involvement in the undergrad programmes, although difficult enough to arrange and facilitate at Jordanstown, the move to Coleraine will again make this virtually impossible since most patient representative groups are based in Belfast .”
Our colleagues says, “As I understand it there has been no discussion with clinical colleagues in the health service prior to this announcement .”
The consequences for technical staff on the courses also seems to have been overlooked.
“Our technical staff do not have flexibility in employment, for them a 9.00am start means a 6.20 train from Belfast, with train fares in excess of £250 per month”
Just ahead of Ulster University Open Days, management instructed staff not to offer any information to school and college students about courses that they propose to close and, if asked, tell the students these courses would not be recruiting for 2016 entry. Yet management have a legal responsibility to consult with the recognised trade unions on their redundancy proposals, including course closures, which they have not done.
Anthea Irwin, President of UCU at Ulster said, ‘Open Week is usually a happy, vibrant time, when staff take pride in introducing our broad range of excellent courses to potential students, and help enable them to make the best choices for their futures. This year, we continue to do our best for the young people of our province, but we are angry and frustrated that management are presenting as a fait accompli what are only proposals at this stage.
‘Course talks have been pulled at the last minute. Students have arrived full of excitement about discussing courses that, up until today, they were planning to apply for, and they don’t understand the reasons for the proposed closures. Neither do staff, because management have failed to provide us with any rationale. The Northern Ireland Executive are failing our young people by not investing sufficiently in Higher Education. But our own management are failing those young people too, by trying to savagely cut what we offer them without consulting the people who actually teach the courses and know how important they are to our society and economy.
‘UCU continues to challenge Ulster University Management to fulfil its obligations to consult meaningfully and come up with a set of proposals that protect the future of our young people’s education and avoid job losses.’
The criteria and rationale for job cuts and the loss of courses needs greater scrutiny. As a colleague in one area marked for closure explains:
“Modern Languages has the highest employability rate of any School in Arts and is 8th overall within the institution It was therefore ironic to see Ulster University’s new Vice Chancellor, Prof. Paddy Nixon, on TV on Wednesday (2nd September) stating that UU needed courses to produce “industry ready graduates” when he was shutting down one of the most successful in that field.
“This is a view that has been reinforced by the employers who have contributed to the Facebook page and petition which has sprung up to challenge the closure of the School of Modern Languages.”
“Student satisfaction seems to have played little part in the decision to close the School. For instance, in Spanish, student satisfaction at 92% is above Ulster University’s and the national average, and the subject came 15th out of 55 in the Times Good Student Guide.
“As for recruitment, Prof. Nixon stated that ‘languages were not as popular as you might expect.’ Languages has 43 students coming into 1st year!
“The impact on the internationalisation of the university and the damage to DEL policy stipulated in its Graduating for Success was not even alluded to.’
The Graduating for Success document, launched by Employment and Learning Minister, Dr Stephen Farry in April 2014 is clear:
“In supporting employability, the Department welcomes the recommendations put forward
in Languages for the Future: The Northern Ireland Languages Strategy, commissioned by the Department of Education, for all higher education providers to offer extended training in language competence. The Department encourages the institutions to address their language strategies through their corporate planning processes and to expand provision for all learners, thus improving their employment prospects.”
A report from BBC Newsline.
Staff at Ulster University have now been informed of the university management’s initial proposals in response to the cuts to Higher Education funding from Stormont announced in June. A period of consultation between the University management and the trade unions will begin soon, and UCU’s priority during this time is the avoidance of compulsory redundancies and protection of jobs.
Anthea Irwin, President of the Ulster University local association of UCU, said, ‘The Stormont cuts to the Higher Education budget are devastating. To see Higher Education, as some do, as somehow less vital to society and economy than other sectors, is to completely miss the point. What future is there for our society, and how is our economy to grow, if we do not educate our young people to be independent thinkers and skilled practitioners? This point could not be more pertinent than in Northern Ireland as it continues to emerge from its troubled past, and remains a low wage economy where average earnings are only 81% of those in the rest of the UK.
‘But those budget cuts have been made, and the University’s responsibility now is to deal with them in such a way that protects as many jobs as possible and causes the least detrimental effect to our future generations of young people and to the staff involved in their education.
‘UCU is saddened that the current proposals do not do this. Management have introduced what they are calling a ‘voluntary severance’ package, yet entire subject areas are being closed, and significant proportions of staff are being cut in targeted areas, so many of the redundancies will not be voluntary in any real sense, and the breadth of curriculum we offer to our young people is under threat.
‘We hope to work constructively with our management in responding to the devastating Stormont cuts, but this can only happen where there is a sincere commitment on all sides to avoid any redundancies that are not truly voluntary and where management engages in a genuine consultation with the trade unions about how this can best be achieved.’
Contact: Anthea Irwin, UCU at Ulster president firstname.lastname@example.org 07742889802
It has been quite a year for UCU nationally and at Ulster. As we face an uncertain and stressful time ahead, it is important not only to consider the challenges facing us but also to acknowledge significant national and local achievements.
The UCU at Ulster committee hopes that as many members as possible will join us at the AGM on Friday 26th June at 1pm (in Belfast 82C05, Jordanstown 8H09, Magee MD122 and Coleraine H215) to reflect on the year gone by, plan for the year ahead, and get more involved if you would like to.
There is strength in union: all staff share in union gains, and the more people stand together as union members and get involved, the stronger the union will be.
The UCU@Ulster newsletter is available to download via the link below.