Monday's meeting of the Imperial College Union Council began with a discussion about the Humanities Review. It was attended by two members of staff from the humanities department.
Deputy President (Education & Welfare), Hannah Theodorou, said that although there were concerns about the other humanities cuts - including Modern Literature and Drama and Music in Western Civilisation - it was languages courses that students had been more vocal about.
The first suggestion made by Council was to keep Japanese, the second-most subscribed course at Imperial with 202 students enrolled, to the level that it is currently taught. Addressing the concerns of some academics that lower level languages are not worthy of credit within an undergraduate degree, Council recommended that Levels 1 and 2 of each language should count for credit in all but the final year of a degree.
ACC Chair, Sam Furse, put forward the proposition that it was more important to save languages such as Arabic, Japanese, Chinese and Russian which students would find more difficult to learn themselves through books and other resources. This was strongly contested by the DPEW, as well as SCC Chair, Peter Mabbott, who reminded Mr Furse that those wanting to study a language at Imperial are more likely to want to learn it from a course than from books.
A draft copy of the report that will be put to Senate was circulated to Council members before submission this morning. It says that whilst the Union "agrees with the recommendation that the Humanities Department should be in line with the College's strategic aims", the Union also believes that Imperial is a "truly international university [and] supporting the development of student?s language skills can only be in line with these strategic aims".
The report also argues that teaching languages helps with "strengthening our relationships with international institutions, both for undergraduate and postgraduate as well as research opportunities", as well as helping students to start a language from scratch to allow them to take part in the Year Abroad programme later in their degree. It notes that "Institute of Engineering and Technology, Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Institute of Chemical Engineering, Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Chemistry and the CBI all have specific statements about the value of language programmes within degree courses", but that the majority of them agree that basic communication skills are far more important than fluency
Arguments for saving Arabic included the fact that the College has recently established a new Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi.
The main blow to students is the Union's decision not to support the courses in Russian, which are important to many students within the Royal School of Mines. The Russian course is regularly the least subscribed language course at Imperial, and it seems that the opportunity to study it is likely to be taken away from the few who do rely on it for applying for jobs in the oil industry.