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Union Hits Back at Humanities Cuts

Jun 09 2009 14:18
Lawrence Weetman
The Union Council last night discussed plans to submit a new report to Senate, suggesting that humanities subjects should be saved.
Council's views will be taken to College Senate.

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.

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Discussion about “Union Hits Back at Humanities Cuts”

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.
Jun 09 2009 15:22

what a load of old tosh - college should cut sabbs salaries and use that to pay for the humanities teaching - given the hippie protest last week, i think it'd go down a treat

Maths: ~26K (tax free) per sabb * 5 = 130K - I'm sure you could run a few language courses with that

Jun 09 2009 15:27

i think it's farcical that sabbs get paid more than phd students, who actually add value to college in the form of good research and don't spend their days whining about sec. 3 part d subsection i. clause b of the constitution.

name me one reason why sabbs should earn more than say 10k a year.

and don't say "otherwise nobody would do it": potential sabbs are generally unemployable students, they have no other choice

Jun 09 2009 15:29

wait, could it be that college decided to scrap languages because the money required had to be spent on another dpew because it was "too stressful" for just one person?

4. D.   
Jun 09 2009 16:01

Don't know where the 26k figure comes from (unless you're counting their stipend + their accommodation, but even then you won't get to 26k), as far as I know sabb salaries are meant to be pretty close to PhD stipends...

Regardless, if they were cut to 10k/year, all you'd get would be unemployable students - and you'd notice the difference. For instance I don't think anyone would consider Ashley unemployable!

Jun 09 2009 16:06

poll - would you employ Ashley?

how long has he been at IC? he basically can't get a job

Jun 09 2009 16:06

Actually, since a group of sabbs (supported by volunteers) got a pay rise for PhD students, sabbs get around the same or less than PhDs, even those on research council studentships. Those PhD students on industrial sponsorships, Wellcome Trust studentships etc take home a fair bit more (I've seen at least ?17k tax free).

I'd love to take home ?26k tax-free for being a sabb next year, but that isn't the case.

Jun 09 2009 16:09

got it from the horses mouth my friend...and you're basically saying 20k, which is still over 5k more than a phd stipend, once again, that actually does something for this university.

@ ashley - our wonderful new president: "even" those on research council studentships...bit arrogant don't you think? didn't see any nature papers from you...

@ athulya - spot on, and may i reiterate that it was a no contest election, won by 2:1 against ron, which hardly suggests a mandate

Jun 09 2009 16:12

ps i've been here since 1994 and obviously can't get a job

Jun 09 2009 16:15

note: Could somebody please clarify exactly how much sabbs get paid?

When I mean clarify, I don't just mean the take home packet - I mean everything - e.g. if you get accommodation paid, you should add that into the figure so we can truly compare to PhD students

Jun 09 2009 16:16

@ athulya Thanks for the poll suggestion. Might edit it a bit but the gist is good.

In response to your suggestion that Ashley is unemployable due to having been at Imperial so long, does that mean all PhDs are unemployable as regardless of whether they chose to stay at the same institution they will all have been at University for the same amount of time?

Jun 09 2009 16:29

no - if you do a phd it's for two (main) reasons

1. you fancy yourself as an academic - so after your phd if you still like it you go for a postdoc at a different uni

2. you want the title "Dr" - if so, as soon as you finish, you get a well paid job and start getting some real world experience

Jun 09 2009 16:32

Lord Jonathan, I don't understand where your ?20k figure came from? I think I calculated it as about ?14.5k after tax and NI (including living-out allowance, in lieu of accomodation) when I was trying to figure it out. I've not seen the contract for next year yet so I don't know for sure.

""even" those on research council studentships...bit arrogant don't you think?"

Not really, those of us on research council studentships get paid less than those on industrial or Wellcome Trust studentships. So even the lowest paid PhD students get paid about the same or more than the sabbs (~?14.5k per year after tax).

Jun 09 2009 16:35

even if that were true:

14.5k + 6k living allowance does not equal what phd students get, surely it can't be that hard to get that in your head?

Jun 09 2009 16:36

and, reiterating, it's disgusting

Jun 09 2009 16:39

?14.5k INCLUDING living-out allowance. That is, ?14.5k total.

Jun 09 2009 16:56

Lord Jonathan, you are clearly a fool.

Who the f**k cares what PhD students get? This is NOT the issue in the slightest. A PhD student is a student. A Sabb is an employee. When a PhD student graduates he will not be getting the lousy stipend, but instead a salary that if he is not a complete dimwit, at least matches it.

Consider Hamish Common unemployable? He's only like.. I dunno... a star barrister.

Ashley unemployable?! Gotta be laughing.. Stephen Brown unemployable? Dude get the f**k over yourself and your inferiority complex.

Jun 09 2009 17:01

lol inferiority complex? doubt it mate! i've done considerably better for myself then any of those you mentioned, but that's not the point, now is it?

the point was about sabb pay, and the obvious relation you can draw is between it and phd students. sabbs are no more employees than the 2nd year biochemists behind the union bar

Jun 09 2009 17:01

hamish common is such a star barrister he sits on union court!

Jun 09 2009 17:34

If you are more successful than a load of ex-sabbs that now have good jobs how do you find the time to bicker on Live? Tell us your secret.

Jun 09 2009 18:34

it's just that much fun to wind you people up!

Jun 09 2009 19:15

Historical position: sabbs were paid net of taxes, a sum equivalent to the EPSRC stipend. They were also provided with free accomodation in Hall - or an equivalent allowance.

02-03: The pay link to the EPSRC stipend was broken and replaced with a salary on the Clerical and Related scale point 7.

03-04: The CRA scale was abolished and the sabbs moved to the new Professional Family scale 1.4 -

The situation regarding provsion of accomodation has not altered in the last decade.

This is the situation when I left the Union the year before last. Mr Google is your friend.

To calculate the cost of employment of sabbatical officers and their take-home pay is left as an exercise, but obviously the latter will depend on their personal tax circumstances....

Jun 09 2009 19:35

Yes Lord Jonathan, you've clearly managed to do much better than all of the above mentioned people. I assume you own a nice country manor out in somewhere nice. Maybe Acton?

Jun 09 2009 19:43


If the 2nd year biochemist worked a full time job behind the bar, he'd probably get a salary pretty close to that of a Sabb

Jun 09 2009 19:50

dave parry to the rescue! very much appreciated! hope that clarifies everything for the time being...

with regards to the other discussion here, i just had a quick chat with a friend who is a recruitment manager at a large bank in order to escape the hackdom and get a little real-world opinion.

she basically said that having a sabb on your cv can go both ways. if it's clear from your record during the sabbatical that you had a few things that you were very passionate in implementing and more or less got them done, it looks good. you look like someone who is willing to go out of their way to achieve something they think needs to be done (a certain john collins springs to mind!). however, more often than not, she said she doesn't see that in sabbs that have applied to her firm (not only from imperial, so no hostile remarks please). she sees students that either:

a) couldn't find a job

b) thought it would be fun and interesting

d) got so involved that they couldn't find their way out of the union and stayed longer than for their own good

none of those are bad reasons in themselves to do a sabb, but, as she put it, they don't exactly make you attractive to employers. "employers like people who achieve, full stop, in whatever it may be".

i would love to see all sabbs as ambitious go-getters that make the college a different place, and i do think that most people that set out to get involved in the union have that ambition, but something seems to get in the way. call in the constitution, call it hacks, call it endless meetings, bureaucracy, whatever you wish, but that needs change! (not the obama type)

why yes, i do have a manor in acton where i play polo and shoot clay pigeons on the weekends. wish to join?

Jun 09 2009 19:53

@ howmuch?

you're saying? the point was that they're both students, one on leave of absence for a year from studying or "real work", one on leave for a few hours so they can fill up their pockets. i worked full time during the summers when i studied, but i was still a student.

Jun 09 2009 19:57

@ dave parry

do you happen to know why the link to the research council pay scale was broken?

Jun 09 2009 22:24

Was anything discussed about on the cuts to Music Civ etc. last night? Would have come to defend them if I wasn't in the middle of exams at the moment.

Jun 09 2009 22:32

Gavin, I think the answer to that is no. I believe the DPEW wanted to concentrate on battles that were winnable. Although I am more than a bit worried about the loss of Russian. It does make a huge difference to employability for some students in my department.

Lord Jonathan, while your contribution is interesting, humorous and sparking interesting debate I do wonder why you feel the need to respond to yourself, twice! Even I have better things to do. ;)

Jun 09 2009 22:37

interesting...the poll was just at 84% saying that sabbs are unemployable, now it's dropped to 40%...zimbabwe right here at live!

Jun 09 2009 22:41

Nothing to do with either me or Lawrence and Ashley went to bed over an hour ago. Something about a bad back and pigeons. :)

Jun 09 2009 22:44

how did you know he went to bed over an hour ago?

32. Editor   
Jun 09 2009 23:18

Article updated to include the now non-draft Report to Senate. Apparently it's different. I haven't actually checked. Happy now Hannah? :o)

Jun 09 2009 23:19

Because it's my job to know these things...

...and because we were talking on msn and now we're not.

Jun 10 2009 00:36

@ Lord Jonathan

The link between the sabbs pay and the EPSRC stipend was broken because the stipend was forecast to rise by 50% over the following 5 years; rather more than the budget was forecast to rise - since College would not accept that the forecast rise should be included in the subvention.

For the original reportage and discussion around here

[Oi! Sam! You're leaving today - make one last random comment somewhere]

Jun 10 2009 22:21

Sorry big Dave

How's the boat?

Jun 11 2009 10:09

Hi Sam,

Sorry - forgot about your issues with public transport down there. Boat is fine; about to enter the bandit country of Leeds - I have to get through it before the end of school today.

37. Geoff   
Jun 12 2009 12:09

Congratulations on the Union for standing up for the courses you clearly want and need. And for the protest last week which all languages staff who could physically make it attended.

To the nay-sayers, why can we not have both sabbaticals and language teaching. Rather silly to play one off against the other isn't it? As the employer of the sabbs, the College has to pay them on a comparable level to staff doing similar jobs: that is Equal Pay law. The university staff trade union UCU fights for the better conditions for PhD students too, so if you care about those things, join UCU.

If you really want to vent some spleen, try looking up the Rector's salary and pay rise in the College accounts, and see how many sabbs/language courses you could fund from that.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader: p. 66

UCU Rep, Humanities

Jun 18 2009 11:56

So what happened at Senate yesterday?

39. Hmm   
Jun 18 2009 12:28

The paper - kinnda won-ish.

40. Editor   
Jun 18 2009 19:45

Not what I heard. Article following shortly.

41. hmm   
Jun 19 2009 10:03

it was a big "ish" they accepted that it was financial rather than strategic

Jun 20 2009 00:57


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