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Staff and Students Fight for Basic Humanities

May 24 2009 23:15
Kirsty Patterson
No, it's not a socialist worker party campaign: Staff and students are coming together this week to protest against the closure of Humanities Courses at Imperial College.
Show your colours, earn your strips, do your bit for Language and Humanities Courses on 3rd June.

A protest against cuts being forced upon the languages and humanities department is being arranged following an article in Friday's issue of felix. The protest, to take place on the 3rd of June will see students gather outside the Faculty Building waving international flags to symbolise the importance of a multi-linguistic scientific community and Imperial's role in ensuring our Graduates gain these vital communication skills.

The cuts will see 60% of foreign language classes offered to undergraduates disappear by 2010 with no students able to start a new language from the 2010 academic year. There will be no classes for credit in Japanese, Italian, Russian or Arabic with the most popluar languages (Mandarin, German, French and Spanish), only continuing at higher levels.

Prior to Friday's issue of Felix, Staff of the Humanities Department sent an email to past and present students on languages courses urging them to make their voices heard if they objected to the cuts being made. The email, sent from a humanities-temp account, was signed off 'The languages staff in Humanities' and read:

"As you will all know, foreign language proficiency is of the greatest importance to scientists and engineers today working in an international context.

If you have benefitted from learning a language here and wish to help preserve the Languages Programme for yourselves or for future students, please make your views known - to your own Department, to the Department of Humanities, to senior members of the College or to the Rector. Sign a petition! Urge your parents to write to the Rector too if they're concerned about language learning."

A Petition, which at the time of writing had been signed by over 200 students, is available on google documents and requires just a name and CID number. The signatories are putting their name to the following 'beliefs' which show their strong support for the furtherance of the Languages and Humanities options:

"As students of Imperial College, we feel that these courses are important because;

  • Employers like well rounded applicants, who demonstrate ability and interest outside their degree.
  • Humanities are one of the few opportunities for mixing all years and different departments.
  • It allows Year in Europe students to go to all countries, regardless of their choices at A level and GCSE.
  • Several people chose Imperial because of the opportunities to learn foreign language and study for a year in Europe.
  • The evening classes are only 1.5 hours a week in one go, so are not really a substitute for three separate hour long lessons. As well as charging, the evening classes can only be taken as an additional course on top of a full degree for no credit."

Speaking to Live!, Yean Chooi, a third year Bioengineer expressed his concern that the limitation of humanities options would be extremely damaging given that they are a compulsary part of many undergraduate courses. The decision to cut back on the breadth and level of topics that students can opt for could see students losing out academically aswell as on an extra-curricular basis. A likely outcome could be that the compulsary humanities modules begin to disappear from otherwise singularly technical degrees causing further set-backs for the Humanities Department as well as being to the detriment of the quality of education offered at Imperial. Furthermore, Chris Thomas, a final year Physicist added: "having taken language courses for two years before taking a year abroad, I think they were the most interesting, and directly useful, of all the courses I took at IC, not to mention a lot more culturally enriching. I don't know about the evening classes, but the lunchtime language classes really are good, excellently taught, very thorough and best of all free to take, even for non-credit... I don't know how chuffed those departments that do a lot of European exchanges will be, CivEng and Physics both send students to Italy for instance; I guess they won't after 2010... It just seems like a massive massive shame that College appears to be culling yet another few of the things that makes it more liveable and enriching to the non-purely geek population."

The cuts don't just affect language options, but also include the majority of other humanities modules including Modern Literature and Drama and Music in Western Civilisation. Following years of building an extensive and celebrated humanities offering, along with housing this department in a specially renovated space on the fourth floor of the Sherfield Building, Imperial is rapidly back-pedalling on it's previous encouragment of what was considered 'important contributions to your general education'.

If you are interested in joining the protest, you can find out more on the Facebook Group or contact the organisers: and Ossain Hynes. Also don't forget to Sign the Petition! Additionally, leave your comments and messages for the 'powers that be' below and Live! will pass them on for you!

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Discussion about “Staff and Students Fight for Basic Humanities”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
May 24 2009 23:29

In other, equally exciting, news:

felix have updated their website so I can now provide links to their articles! I can't however turn italic text into links so 'felix' will have to be 'felix' for the purpose of utilising their web based news reportage!

May 24 2009 23:55

As I'm sure you are all aware all departments in the college are being asked to make 5% budget cuts in order to make sure they have a contingency for when the expected cuts to higher education funding occur after the next election. There have been many meetings discussing how best to make these cuts. Myself and the DPEW were present at one of the meetings where this issue was brought up and I think the contribution we made helped the committee come to the best decision possible. I would like to highlight the fact that it was agreed that all languages courses would be available as evening classes and the possibility of offering exams so that a recognised standard could be achieved was explored.

I agree this is a sad state of affairs however the alternatives were worse and with the current climate, and certain MPs asking for money to be diverted from the better universities to help fund London met etc I think it was the best compromise we could come to.

May 25 2009 08:06

Doesn't seem to add up.

There seems to be a lot more than 5% of courses being cut though...

Are there any non language courses being cut?

This also means that some students going away next year will not be able to study their chosen language on their return, so they're unable to maintain their language of choice for a possible permenant move aboard at the end of their degree.

May 25 2009 08:46

The cuts are being made from staff. The courses being removed will not by themselves make the full 5% reduction in costs. Yes there are several non-language courses being cut (see Felix). All the main languages (ones that tend to lead to a year abroad) are being kept at higher levels so that should not affect anyone wanting to progress with a second language looking to move abroad.

May 25 2009 09:47

I can only see college regretting this decision in the long run. Short term cost savings in this respect will lead to long term problems, in both attracting students and employment after graduation. Even one years worth of basic language classes is attractive to employers, and the level 1 courses are quite thorough. However, a common criticism is that taking a level one language course instead of an elective directly related to your degree in your later years in college is an overly easy option, especially if you already have a basic knowledge of the language. A better option would be to have levels 1 and 2 purely as non credit courses, with the higher levels available for credit.

6. chris   
May 25 2009 10:47

This is an absolute disgrace, and I cannot believe the sheer hypocrisy of College here.

Why? For as long as I've been here, they keep banging on about how much they care about student welfare and happiness, they keep expressing their supposed 'concern' at coming bottom of the student satisfaction ratings of the top unis every year, keep insisting they're doing all they can to give us poor unhappy undergrads the best student experience they can, and it's just down to our apathy if we're still unhappy. Well Mr Anderson, I think you'll find that a big reason why many here ARE unhappy is because of the cultural narrowness inherent in a science-and tech based university. Obviously most people here are interested in science, but most students also do not feel satisfied if the most culturally enriching thing around is the latest felix (not to knock it, it's a great paper)!

Humanities and languages courses are one of the few things at Imperial that help to make us more, and not less well-rounded students, and now they're going to cut large chunks of it. Does the fact that language lessons are massively oversubscribed, despite being underpublicised not tell you ANYTHING about what students here want??!! Or do you know this full well but just don't give a s**t because the only thing you care about is how high your uni ranks in the 'world ratings'??

Cutting language courses not only shows the college's hypocrisy claiming to be trying to 'increase' student satisfaction, but is also extremely short sighted from a professional point of view - top scientists and engineers nowadays are almost always involved in international collaborations and even if most business is conducted in english, having a knowledge of foreign languages is still a benefit, and is also a big benefit when you're looking for work - many multinational UK employers value language skills extremely highly, because they are so rare in the UK. And what about cultural exchanges? One of the best things a student can possibly do, these will surely suffer if they cut beginner language courses - I know plenty of people who learnt a language from scratch at Imperial, went on exchange after a couple of years and now are near-fluent in it.

I think we always knew that college management were out of touch with the students around here, but I never thought it would reach these heights. Utterly, utterly apalled.

7. Dandi   
May 25 2009 10:53

This is so typical Imperial.

Languages don't bring any Money in for Imperial, that is why we cut them!

Lets make this a Research Institute and forget the annoying undergraduates (me included...).

The average Student coming here is slightly geeky. Upon leaving, things get even worse! Humanities is one of the few chances we have of not having to learn any equations. It is such a bloody relief.

I agree about the Lunchtime classes, the teachers are great and whole system works very well. I mean why would we have 2 hour lunch times otherwise?

Imperial: If you want to save money, save it on the Business School. Or the 30000 Million pounds new engineering building. Make it for 29998 Millions and we can have humanities!

8. chris   
May 25 2009 10:54

Alex Grisman: What exactly were the alternatives and how are they worse? How can a 5% college-wide budget-cut leading to the decimation of language courses offered possibly be the 'best possible outcome'?? Can I suggest that even a similar cut to the union's budget would have considerably less effect on students overall than cutting the languages programme, both from the point of view of employability of graduates and student satisfaction. And evening classes are not comparable to the language tuition that they will be 'replacing', that's like saying Linstead bar was a 'replacement' for southside..

May 25 2009 11:03

i completely agree

May 25 2009 11:16

Kirsty, good article, but please fix spelling.

May 25 2009 11:22

But alas they won't save money on the Business school because that is where 'leaders' and goons in suits are bred to become fools of randomness by believing in deterministic financial markets... but enough Talebisms - I came to Imperial and learnt a new language entirely which will probably help me more in life than volume integrations or solving the Navier Stokes equations... Why don't they charge MBAs more that way they can save humanities.

12. Tom   
May 25 2009 11:31

From reading the Felix article I felt the main bone of contention was the relative diffculties of the humanties options available, rather than budget cuts purely (although this obviously has a strong effect). I can understand why people might be galled at others hiding their true ability in a language to enter at a lower level and get better marks, but I would like to think that these people are the minority, not the majority. I for one am entering Level4 Japanese next year, hoping to study more over the Summer so I can enter Level5 perhaps instaed. I am well aware that I could get a better grade in a lower level, however, what would be the point? I believe most people who study a language do so because they want profiency in that language, not for points.

That humanties options will be regarded as 'easy' I think is inevitable in a Science University. Some more than others, and it is right that they should be weighted more accordingly. But this disparity is apparent within departments and degree courses as well. In EEE we have a cumpolsory management module (tested my multiple choice) within 1st year, which counts for 10% of our year mark. Compared to EVERY other module, baring Maths, which are worth only 7% or so. Any logically thinking person, having looked at the content of this course would think this to be madness. Surely this needs to undergo some 'equilization'? Extending the thinking proposed in the article to make things 'equal' why not just get rid of any degree which allows you to take not technical options? Since, in the end, they are easy options. EEE also in 3rd and 4th splits into separate streams - one, a mangement one - which allows students in both their 3rd and 4th year to take 3rd year (i.e. Introductory and Beginner) management and business options. Surely this is also grossly unfair? A quarter (from a 4 year course) of their degree is now made up from 'easy' humanities/business options.

May 25 2009 11:37

The problem here is that College has asked every department individually to cut 5% and is not looking at the bigger picture. The problem with the departmental libraries stems from the same root. I completely agree this is not the way forward even if it did not come out in my earlier posts.

The point I am making is that if Humanities has to make the cuts this is best way of doing it, there is still the option of learning a language at lower levels through evening classes (I know its not free and I did argue this point) and then progressing onto one of the advanced courses for merit.

College are well aware of the problem of Imperial grads being too geeky and have a raft of things on the go to combat this including a set of courses for engineers and scientists which will be run by the Humanities department that will be compulsory. Whether this is the right way to go or not, I don't know. If ever there was an argument for splitting DPEW this is surely it.

May 25 2009 12:21

1. Actually don't give a s**t

2. You people simply don't understand

3. You people are far too left wing you may as well be a GM turkey

4. How many of you are actually contemplating taking arabic or russian next year.

5. Get a life... Jeez

May 25 2009 14:43

It is ridiculous that the agendas of departments are being restricted by the humanities department. If a department's specific links are in Italy or Russia, they now can't send their undergraduates there on a year out! Ludicrous!

May 25 2009 17:14

@14 Arabic and Russian have been very useful courses for graduates hoping to work in the oil industry who will find themselves there on either placements, field excursions or on a more permanent basis. I learnt Russian at school as an alternative to French and German up to GCSE. It is an important tool in many of the industries our graduates are being prepared for.

Similarly, Italian and Japanese are also being completely dropped despite Civil Engineering and Physics Departments sending students to Italy for their year abroad options.

I suggest if you don't give a s**t then you simply don't turn up to the protest and allow other students to 'get a life' as you suggest. Maybe in Italy, Japan, Russia or an arabic speaking country/state. I assume your ambitions will keep you firmly rooted where nobody can upset you with their alternative cultures and 'left wing' tendencies. I think your life-style would be referred to as 'blinkered'.

May 25 2009 17:50

This is ridiculous. I'm currently on a year abroad in france and I have to say it is absolutely amazing. There is already a massive difference between the number of incoming and outgoing students to imperial. Cutting the language provision will reduce this number further. Why deny people such an awesome experience. Here in french engineering schools 2 foreign languages are compulsory throughout the degree...

Good luck for the protest, us erasmus are supporting you all the way!!

18. geoff   
May 26 2009 11:43

College really don't give a s**t about undergrads do they. God forbid if they should have to make a cut to their precious corporate 'research' to make life less monotonous for students.

I'm in my third year, learnt italian from scratch in year 1 thanks to non-credit lunchtime language courses and this is without a doubt the most worthwhile thing I've done at Imperial. Good thing we've got this clever rector to cut useless frivolities like this eh. (And to those idiots saying languages are a 'soft option', don't talk till you know what you're talking about - they take up a hellofalot of time, and very few people get firsts)

You've not got off to a good start Mr Anderson, now try harder. Epic fail.

May 26 2009 23:21

Well I won't be losing out as I've never managed to get a bloody place on one of the french and german courses in 3 years of trying!

May 27 2009 02:55

The government have asked Hefce to cut ?180M from this years grant letters. IC is over-funded and with the withdrawal from the University of London, was always going to lose 3% funding which was the funding benefit of being in UL (we weren't going to keep special funding for UL by leaving it!). Read the Hefce Board reports...

May 27 2009 11:11

The Beeb have picked up on ICs protest:

May 27 2009 21:14

Wonder where they got that from? ;)

May 27 2009 22:36


It's ?180M from FY 2010-11, which translates to ?65M from AY 2009-10.

On what basis are IC over funded?

Would you be kind enough to point out where the 3% 'funding benefit' from being in UoL is? IC would receive the 8% inner London weighting as it always has done. Nothing to do with UoL.

Read the HEFCE circular letters...

May 28 2009 02:27

I'd like to make the point that they've cut the entirety of the creative arts options, leaving only history/philosophy/english options. Humanities only work if the person studying a particular subject is interested in it and by cutting the entirety of a particular subject block is outstandingly short-sighted. I'm studying Music & Western Civ next year and I've heard nothing but praise for the course.

Sadly its not the first time since I've came to Imperial that I find College attitude towards undergraduate provision and treatment lacking. This issue is serious not only for current students and next year's intake - I guess that the new prospectuses will have the full range of humanities courses too when they won't be offered half of that. I'm going to have problems if they ask me about humanities options whilst on the Imperial stand at a UCAS conference in Sheffield and I have to explain that what's listed won't be what they get.

25. Editor   
May 28 2009 08:26

Times Higher Education have now picked up on this story.

26. Mud   
May 28 2009 08:50

An Imperial spokeswoman said a review of humanities teaching had concluded that the "complexity and diversity" of its provision had "led to a lack of clarity about its purpose and place in supporting the strategic needs of the college".

Now it is crystal clear why they are doing it. They couldn't have explained it better.

May 29 2009 18:15

@ 14 if you really didnt care why post - go back to playing WoW in the Library.

28. I.   
Jun 01 2009 11:46

The 2010 cuts have nothing to with the 2009 5% cuts which are affecting all the departments at IC.

This is not about the crisis but about lack of willingness to support Humanities options as they are not considered part of the strategic needs. Unfortunately, IC is following the rather narrow minded attitude which other institutions & educational authorities have about languages - i.e. it is not worth to invest any money in that skill.

Jun 02 2009 17:12

Can someone tell us the new courses which are going to be offered instead?

30. jk   
Jun 02 2009 19:50


31. WAN   
Jun 03 2009 10:43

The standard of the Japanese students of Imperial College has been so high, which is always well known to the people involved in Japanese langauge. It will be a real pity that they will not be able to learn Japanese at Imperial College!

Jun 03 2009 10:50

Don't forget the protest is today at midday! See you at the Blue Cube. :)

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