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February 26, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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School of Languages and Cultures restructured

Despite Victoria University promoting itself as a “globally minded” institution, the School of Languages and Cultures (SLC) is being considerably restructured from 2017.

In October last year, a Consultation Document proposing structural changes to the SLC was released.

This proposal welcomed submissions from affected parties and set out a decision panel which heard and considered submissions from staff, students, and the public, and consulted with the Vice Chancellor, before confirming a Final Outcome of Change Process document.

After consultation, the Final Outcome of Change Process confirmed the reduction of the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) staff of the French programme from 4.0 to 3.0; the reduction of German from 3.5 to 2.0, with 0.5 remaining on a fixed term, year-long contract which would not be renewed; the reduction of Italian from 3.0 to 2.0; the reduction of Spanish and Latin American from 5.5 to 5.0; and the reduction of school administration from 3.0 to 2.8.

The Final Outcome also introduced new Translation Studies roles, resulting in the employment of 2.0 FTE staff.

A consolidation of the School Leadership Structure was also confirmed, reducing seven Programme Directors to two Directors of Undergraduate Learning and Teaching and one Director of Research and Postgraduate Studies.

Sally Hill, Head of the SLC, is confident that the restructuring will not compromise students’ learning experience.

“In terms of the courses provided, [we are] still offering all of the same things that we have offered in the past. To provide that, we have had to reorganise how we teach some of these things, while managing staff workloads.”

Salient spoke with an SLC staff member on the issue, who wished to remain anonymous. They stated that although the short-term effects of the restructuring might not affect students in 2017, it is “illogical” that the reductions would not compromise the languages programmes.

Many of those affected have suggested that the restructuring was “future proofing” that could allow for further reductions to staff and programmes.

Of the submissions made to the decision panel, a number expressed concern about the viability of programmes reduced to 2.0 FTE staff.

Nicki Wilford, the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) organiser for Victoria University, explained, “if you’ve only got two staff running a language course, the knock-on effect on teaching is that much greater when one person takes research or study leave. Courses can also be put at risk if one of the two members of staff needs to take sick leave. Only having two lecturers in a programme puts the long-term viability of a course at risk.”

The anonymous staff member stated that, once the restructuring has taken place, “theoretically, if you were to fire two [languages] staff down the line, you wouldn’t be closing a programme […] you would just be making two people redundant, which doesn’t look as bad.”

They suggested it was “impossible” that workloads would not be increased, and Wilford cautioned that “the existing staff […] are bound to experience larger workloads.”  

Sally Hill said, “there has been a long period in which government funding has been focused in other areas, and a decline in enrolment in languages in secondary school, which has a flow-on effect. […] We are trying to look for ways to do things differently to meet the needs of students.”

Students and staff express feeling “shocked” by the proposal. “It came out of nowhere,” said language student Katherine Kooistra.

The anonymous staff member stated, “it’s tricky to sustain the languages as they are. A few years back we started some new initiatives to increase enrolments, but there hasn’t been enough time to see the fruits of that labour.”

Student ambassadors have been actively promoting language subjects at secondary schools, particularly in the German programme, since 2014. The anonymous staff member reflected that “there is definitely a lack of support from the university to advertise taking a language.”

The Final Outcome summarised submissions made to the Panel, and the Panel’s responses. Although “no submissions challenged the fact that enrolment trends for many languages have been on the decline,” a number of affected parties “queried the enrolment data referred to in the Consultation Document, and suggested that the percentages used did not provide a truly accurate picture.” The Consultation Document stated, “since an enrolment highpoint in 2011 of 570 EFTS, the School has seen EFTS decline down to 405 in 2016, while staffing has remained at a similar level […]. Enrolment data shows that the major cause of this decline is a drop in 100-level enrolments rather than retention rates.”

Wilford said, “we absolutely have seen EFTS losses. No one would dispute that. However, it’s important not to look at annual figures in isolation. We need to be looking at them over a five or so year period.” The focus on 100-level enrolment also fails to take into account students who study languages at secondary school progressing directly into 200-level studies at tertiary level.

The University has been clear that these changes intend to “strengthen the sustainability” of languages, and the decision panel stated in its proposal that submissions made were “listened [to] carefully and taken into account.”

Amongst the submissions made was a petition organised by students to present to the decision panel, which garnered 2084 signatures.

However, when the petition was presented to Vice-Chancellor Grant Guilford on campus at a Languages rally, he “didn’t even want to look at it.”

Students present suggested that he “dismissed everything we’d been doing, said we didn’t know what we were fighting, why we were fighting, we had no decent reasons or arguments in support. And he didn’t even look at it. […] [W]ho’s going to listen to us if the person who is supposed to be listening […] won’t?”

Katherine Kooistra reflected, “so many people took time to sign that petition. If Grant Guilford […] had no interest in it, it showed that our movement wasn’t going anywhere.”

In a meeting between the TEU and the Vice-Chancellor, the TEU suggested that this response was problematic. The Vice-Chancellor reflected that the the timing of the presentation was less than ideal. However, The TEU conveyed he “understood that there should have been better ways of dealing with that.”

Sally Hill expressed that the changes reflect “a hard time for the humanities,” due to “a long period in which government funding has been focussed in other [subject] areas.” A student ambassador, who spoke with Salient but chose to remain anonymous, argued that “when you’re cutting programmes, cutting lecturers, to support [other subjects], that doesn’t really seem fair at all.”

The German Embassy has expressed regret in response to the the reduction of the German programme’s FTE positions, stating “we believe this decision is not helpful to young New Zealanders intending to study Europe’s most widely spoken first language.”

Nicki Wilford also questioned the way languages have been “valued” in the restructuring process. “To show value, you don’t have people lose their jobs. None of this was about lack of performance — it was about cost-saving”.

The anonymous student ambassador reflected, “They say the University is a business. I hadn’t really considered that, until these cuts happened — and then I realised they were shafting our faculty, just to make money for their business. And that’s not fair.”

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