Playwrite Defends Languages in Scotland

Tom Stoppard speaks out in defence of Glasgow’s language course

The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead author was born in Czechoslovakia © Dinamarco, Luciano
Academy Award-winning playwright Sir Tom Stoppard has spoken out in support of a petition, which attracted more than 3000 signatures, presented to the Scottish Parliament by University of Glasgow lecturer Dr. Jan Culik.

The petition, which calls on the Scottish Government to instruct the Scottish Funding Council – the body responsible for distributing funding to Scottish further and higher education institutes – to provide “targeted funding for lesser-taught languages and cultures at Scottish universities”, was discussed by the Public Petitions Committee on Tuesday, 20th September.

Sir Tom, who won an Oscar for his screenplay, Shakespeare in Love, told the committee: “Scotland – but Glasgow in particular – to me has meant the place where eastern European languages are kept alive as an area of study… Glasgow is an outpost for something important and enlightened happening”. He added: “There are practical advantages for teaching Scottish undergraduates Polish, for example, not just because a lot of Polish people live here but for all kinds of pragmatic reasons.”

Glasgow University is the only institute outside of London where studies in Slavonic culture and languages such as Czech, Polish and Russian are taught. Dr. Culik, a senior lecturer in Slavonic Studies, commented: “No one can deny that Glasgow University is known internationally for having these small but important subject areas… In my view, whilst I fully respect the University of Glasgow must make money and I value the judgement of the management, I feel a respectable university should be proud of courses which don’t exist elsewhere. It is a matter of regret that some do not seem to share this vision. I think that this is an unsolved legal issue; the law seems to say that all suspension of academic courses must be approved by the Senate. This is at least the legal view of highly respected Glasgow University legal experts.”

A University of Glasgow spokesperson commented: “The University remains committed to language teaching. The decision not to run Honours courses in [Polish and Czech] was based on the low numbers choosing to progress to Honours… numbers have not been more than four for either Junior or Senior Honours years for the last seven years.”

He described the decision to abolish degree programmes in Slavonic Studies as “quite separate from issues around Polish and Czech.” 110 students enrolled in Slavonic Studies for the academic year 2011-2012, and the University Senate has expressed the wish that the Slavonic Studies course be retained.

The University Court has decided to cut the cultural course in Slavonic Studies, dealing with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, also due to “small numbers”. However, 110 students were enrolled on this course in 2010-11, and a number of them have opted for the study of the Czech, Russian and Polish at various levels. The Slavonic Studies cultural course has been an important framework for the language-based cultural studies provision at the University of Glasgow. There are fears that with the abolishment of this course the unique East European provision at the University of Glasgow might unravel. The decision to close down the Slavonic Studies cultural programme was taken in defiance
of the recommendation of the University Senate, which has expressed the wish that the course should be retained. The decision to close down the Honours programmes in Czech and Polish have not been submitted either to Senate or to the College of Arts. In May 2011, the College of Arts voted unanimously against redundancies in Czech and Polish.

The Scottish Government are expected to issue a consultation paper in the coming months which will lay out plans for structural change to the SFC and other further and higher education bodies to make them “more efficient in [their] use of public funds”. These structural changes are expected to allow the SFC to specifically allocate funding to languages and cultures currently under threat.

Although the SFC are responsible for allocating funding to universities, they do not currently have jurisdiction over institutes’ budgets. Mark Batho, Chief Executive of the SFC, said: “We do expect colleges and universities to offer a broad range of subjects… and so we have a responsibility when we are distributing the money to make sure that they deliver that broad range so that students get a really good offering in Scotland”.

A University spokesperson added: “The University reviews its course provision on an ongoing basis, and in the light of such conditions as student demand and the availability of resources and will continue to do so.”

[Claire Diamond]

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