Aberdeen staff strike ballot opens amid language degree crisis

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The consultation began in late 2023, with university officials proposing the idea to senior university management.

On December 12, the plan was put through in a university court meeting – leading to up to 30 people facing redundancy and “facing a worrying start to the new year”, said the UCU.

A group of members of staff in modern languages told to The PIE News that “all colleagues in modern languages” are at risk of losing their jobs.

“The strike ballot is the correct response to the threats to jobs and the lack of clarity for staff and students around the future of modern languages at the University of Aberdeen,” the representative said.

The official ballot comes after a consultative local UCU ballot before Christmas last year, where “a large majority” of the staff – over 80% – said they were prepared to take action over the threats to the department.

The university’s single honours language courses, in French, Spanish, Gaelic and German, will not be available to applicants from the autumn intake of 2024.

The university put out a statement defending the actions of the its governing body, saying it has “also extended the consultation period until mid-February”.

“During this period, we are engaging constructively with colleagues, students and UCU.

“We understand many people care passionately about languages but in a challenging financial period for many universities, the high cost of running programs with an average in each of just one new student a year is unsustainable.”

The statement also pointed to the decision to retain languages in joint honours degrees – something modern languages staff said was a “key step” in the consultation process – yet not enough.

“Guarantees around the staffing and quality of the degree programs are urgently needed to regain the trust of staff, students and applicants, and to ensure a quality pipeline of linguists in the north of Scotland,” the group representative said.

“This is important for the reputation of the university as well as its civic mission within the region, which needs more rather than less language graduates.”

“Guarantees around the staffing and quality of the degree programmes are urgently needed”

The group also noted the cutbacks in Gaelic specifically would be detrimental to the university’s own Gaelic Language Plan, “undermining the objectives set out on behalf of the Scottish government in the National Plan for Gaelic”.

Students are also generally supportive of the strike, according to staff, and have been “highly involved” in their campaign to keep languages going at Aberdeen.

“They have run different initiatives… to raise awareness of the issues at stake and to protest the direction of travel proposed by senior management at the University,” the group representative added.

The strike ballot will run until February 7, the UCU confirmed.

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