Friday, 26 February 2010


Apologies for the curious silence from us at Defend over the last seven days. This week has been hectic for students and staff alike, who have been stuck in meetings at all hours of the day. Some great successes have been achieved by the campaign, and awareness among students has risen exponentially. We have had more ups and downs than a grasshopper on a trampoline. So without further ado, here is your week in brief:

MONDAY - The campaign continues to receive a significant boost in coverage after an article in the London Student. In the evening, students hold an open meeting to discuss the campaign, share ideas and prepare for Tuesday's consultation meeting with the Dean. Our petition tops 1000 signatures.

TUESDAY - Early in the afternoon, more than 200 students gather in the Chemistry building for the much-anticipated open consultation meeting. After another shocking whitewash from the Dean, brilliant questioning from the floor leaves him flustered and looking very nervous. However, he digs in his heels and flatly refuses to extend the consultation period. Students leave the meeting incredibly angry, cross the road to the UCL Union Annual General Meeting and promptly vote in an anti-cuts motion with the biggest majority in over a decade.

WEDNESDAY - Further embarassment for the Dean: at a meeting of the Academic Board attended by anti-cuts student campaigners Michael Chessum and Craig Griffiths, Provost Malcolm Grant overrules the Dean with "executive action", extending the consultation period for the Modern Languages Review by two weeks. H.R. Woudhuysen gets a sizeable portion of green ham, and egg on his face.

THURSDAY - Students begin to formulate alternative proposals to the Dean's documents, in parallel with the staff plans already being prepared. A meeting is held to allow all students to put forward and debate ideas.

FRIDAY - Banners are prepared for next Wednesday's rally in the quad, students participate in photoshoots and campaign work.

The campaign is set to become big news by next week, and students and staff need all the help and support they can get. Where will you be? How can you get involved? To find out, join the Facebook groups HERE and HERE.

Write-ups of meetings to follow...

Monday, 15 February 2010

Climb The Montaigne Of Conflict

«Nous ne travaillons qu'à remplir la memoire, et laissons l'entendement et la conscience vuide.»
'We only labour to stuff the memory, and leave the conscience and the understanding void.'
 Michel de Montaigne

'Sounds like a plan.'
H.R. Woudhuysen

'What I Have Learned In UCL's French Department'

A French student gives her take on the proposed changes. 
        In my first few weeks of being a fresher, I was in my halls grappling with Montaigne’s Essais when someone asked me why I was reading a French text. Being a single-subject French student at UCL, I thought the answer should have been rather obvious. Alas, it clearly was not. This particular person genuinely believed that studying French at university was fairly similar to how they remembered their GCSE French. That is to say, when they waved me off to my lectures in the morning, they presumed I was off to learn a vocabulary list about weather, or tourism perhaps, and maybe have a short, taped listening exercise to end the day with. The scary thing is, when I announced this to my flatmates later on, instead of being deafened with their laughter at the poor soul who had clearly misunderstood the purpose of a “language” degree, I was faced with baffled expressions, an awkward silence, and eventually—“well... what do you do then?”

         I don’t think I would be wrong in saying that this is a question that most of us language students have been asked at some point. To an extent, it’s just a harmless miscomprehension, or perhaps ignorance—but this failure to recognise language study as an intellectual entity of itself means that language departments are facing huge cuts and internal changes which could have severe consequences on the way the programmes are run. 

         Language departments within our own university may well be under threat. The proposal released by the Languages Review Committee in early February details the intended first stage of changes to the Dutch, French, German, Italian, Scandinavian Studies, and Spanish and Latin American Studies departments. It unashamedly states its intentions to merge all the departments - thereby taking away individual autonomy - and to cut courses. While the second stage of this plan has not yet been released, it seems likely that it will result in generic courses which will be overarching, bland, and which will not capitalise on the particular interests and research areas of the academic staff (or at least those who remain after the expected job cuts.)

         So why do we care that language departments are under pressure? Surely I could just ditch my studies at UCL, pick up a ‘Teach Yourself French in 3 days-or-something-just-as-unrealistic’ and have the same education, with no tuition fees? Clearly, this would not work. A lecturer of mine once suggested to me that, like in the USA, language degrees should be renamed. At Harvard University, for example, they call it “French and Francophone Studies”. This allows people who don’t know much about a “language” degree too see that there is a lot more to it than learning when to use être et avoir and battling with the subjunctive. The French department, for example, brings together specialists in French and Francophone Literature, History, Politics, Film Studies, Philosophy, Linguistics and Sociology —as well as “highly trained specialists in language acquisition relating to the languages that lie at the core of that discipline” and all within an academic context.

         I can only speak for the French department, but I would be severely disappointed to see the disappearance of some of our courses—especially those in the fourth year, which are almost all taught by academic staff who have special interest, and have done extensive research in the field. I have always been impressed by the depth and range of the courses offered to us as undergraduates. I didn’t apply to UCL for a bog-standard, tick-all-the-boxes degree which would do nothing more than introduce me to a subject then nod indiscreetly in the direction of a post-graduate degree if I required any further information. I came to UCL expecting to study things that other universities didn’t, to push myself, to become enthusiastic about things I had never even heard about, because of staff who were just as enthusiastic. I expected to finish my degree wanting to do a post-graduate degree because I wanted to go even further into my studies, and not because my undergraduate degree didn’t allow me to go far enough.

         Until now, I have never been disappointed, but we are yet to find out exactly what the Languages Review Committee has in store for us. All we know is that there will be changes. And they will affect us. Courses will be cut and changed—and by whom, we do not yet know. Academic freedom will most likely be restrained—the severity of which, again, we do not yet know. However, if there’s one thing that studying French has taught me, is that we don’t have to sit back and let this happen. We can have our say in this matter. We can prove that Modern Foreign Language degrees are not redundant. We can work towards another solution—one which doesn’t compromise the student experience.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Petition Now Online

The petition to extend the consultation period is now online. To sign, click HERE.

Addressed to Dean Woudhuysen, the text of the petition reads:

We, the undersigned, are concerned by the implications of the proposed restructuring of the modern language departments at UCL, which involve potential redundancies and a reduction in the number of courses on offer. The "documents for discussion" were only released after a lengthy delay on 05.02.10 and only five weeks set aside for the consultation process, which includes one reading week. We feel that in order for the proposed changes to be debated in a democratic and fair manner that the consultation period must be extended. This will enable staff and students to discuss the proposed changes, without the stress-inducing timeline of five weeks.

We point to the following extract from UCL's Organisational Change Procedure (point 17):
"Managers leading change must consult with an open mind and welcome suggestions that enhance or improve their proposals, suggest alternative courses of action or that provide information which demonstrates that the proposals will not reap the benefits intended. Proposals should be reviewed as a result of the consultation process and rejected suggestions explained and documented."

We believe that this will only be possible with an extension of the consultation period, allowing the proposed changes to be analysed with the necessary rigour and for potential alternative suggestions to be put forward.

Yours Sincerely,
student, staff and supporters of UCL's Six Modern Language Departments

Friday, 12 February 2010

Une Chanson Pour La Lutte

To help you find some coeur à l'ouvrage, we proudly present Defend UCL Modern Languages's very own battle hymn. Sing to the tune of 'My Old Man's A Dustman':

Henry has a hatchet
He's a UCL axe man
He's slashing up departments
Just as quickly as he can

We've looked at his proposal
It's really pretty poor
We've graded it at 10%
We couldn't give it more

Vague and inconsistent
Is old Henry's style
He could waffle on for England
And do it with a smile

'Cause Henry's got a deadline
The 31st of July
When our friends will be redundant
And he'll have other fish to fry

Old Henry's in a hurry
And Henry's on the loose
If you ask what him he's up to
He'll say something obtuse

And when September comes around
The few office staff remain
They'll struggle with the workload
'Til they're reorganized again

'Cause in February Henry will do
More reorganization
With lots of his famous waffle
And more of that 'Consultation'

He says we won't need languages
To work in the new division
Dumbing down of language skills
Is part of Henry's vision

He doesn't want our language teachers
Nor those on specialist lit.
No Bovary, Brunhilde, Buffo, Buendia, B--(Dutch) or B-- (Scan)
Isn't he a Sssshh-muck!!

He says the cuts will help research
That's what Henry says
But cuts leave lecturers in the lurch
This is what WE says

Henry's sticking to his plan
Sticking through thick and thin
But we'll say Hoorah Henry
When he puts it in the bin!

Now you're downhearted
'Cause education's YOURS
Join the blog, wear the T-shirt, doorstep Henry
Rally to the cause!!

by Anon.

News and updates to be posted over the weekend.

Monday, 8 February 2010

The Future of Modern Languages in the University

Debunking the Michael Worton HEFCE Review of October 2009

What lies ahead for the Departments of Modern Foreign Languages in universities in the UK? How does the teaching and research of these diverse and multifaceted departments contribute to the future? These departments, commonly referred to as “language departments”, do more than the name suggests. Surely then, whatever future they may have should be based on the rich heritage of their disciplines, the diverse national and multi-national identities that they bring together, and the complex interdisciplinarity they embrace, even in a single language department such as German or Italian. Some departments even teach subjects relating to many countries of the world.  French and Francophone Studies Departments, for example, may have the roots of one foreign language at the base of what they teach, but such departments bring together specialists in French and Francophone Literature, History, Politics, Sociology, Film Studies, and Linguistics—as well as highly trained specialists in language acquisition relating to the languages that lie at the core of that discipline. Spanish and Latin American Studies Specialists may unite scholars and teachers of Spanish and Portuguese as well as the literature, history, and culture of countries speaking these languages. Scandinavian Studies brings together interdisciplinary specialists in Literature, History, Culture, Film—and several languages. Few Modern Foreign Languages departments can be narrowed to an area—whether Europe or South America—since the disciplines and the fields often expanded in relation to the language and its speakers’ cultures and for French Studies, for example, that means every continent on the globe.

Every single Department of Modern Foreign Languages in the UK is already part of a vast network of research and teaching professionals who give the "Languages Department" its identity and help to develop its significance for the future. The disciplines owned by these Language Departments often have an established history of international and national professional organisations, journals, conferences, book series, websites, collaborations, networks, and research projects. This history secures these Departments which are by nature so interdisciplinary their own place in the academic world.  

What then should lie ahead for these Departments? Is that even the question that one should be raising right now?  Regardless of whether that is the question scholars, teachers, and students in those departments are asking, it is one that has been asked for them and that is being imposed on them by new UK government mandates for the notoriously small allocations of university funding. The HEFCE report on "The Future of Modern Languages in the University" written by Michael Worton and published online in October 2009 imposes its version of those questions and does so in ways that are all the more likely to transform the future of UCL's Modern Foreign Languages Departments, as Worton is UCL's vice provost.

What then does Michael Worton think the future of Modern Languages Departments in the UK should be?  In the foreword to the document published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in October 2009, Michael Worton, UCL Vice-Provost, sums up the goals of the Review he was asked to undertake on their behalf: ‘The intention was that I would undertake a broadbrush review of the health of Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) in English higher education, taking into account policy and other developments over the past few years in order to make recommendations on how the long-term sustainability and vitality of MFL provision in higher education could be assured.’ Tellingly, Worton is concerned here with ‘taking into account policy and other developments… in order that the sustainability and vitality of MFL provision could be assured.’ The changes in policy to which he refers here explicitly relate to the allocation of government funding for UK universities—a funding policy that has erupted in extensive recent controversy, especially since announcements in December 2009 that higher education would suffer the greatest cuts of any sector receiving public funding for the years to come. Even before these cuts were announced, however, controversy surrounded the development of the new Research Excellence Framework (REF), which has replaced the Research Assessment Exercises (RAE), the latter based solely on the research itself, taking into account as Stefan Collini explains, ‘the number of publications per member of staff, plus information about the “research environment” of the department (measures for encouraging and supporting research, including for PhD students) and evidence of “esteem” (forms of scholarly recognition, professional roles and honours)’( ). The new REF procedure includes a new element, which will make up 25% of the score for each department, which is now based on what the government calls ‘impact’--that is to say, ‘where institutions and researchers have built on excellent research to deliver demonstrable benefits to the economy, society, public policy, culture or quality of life.’ (

The message given by the government’s demand for ‘IMPACT’ is that it is not worth investing in research unless that research will provide an immediate and measurable economic benefit. The perturbing implications of this policy have caused widespread criticism, particularly from the vantage point of the arts and humanities, whose researchers will be less readily able to prove the economic impact of, say, a piece of literary analysis, than would a medical researcher testing pharmaceutical products and publishing results in a scientific journal. With these new REF criteria in place, the UK University will become a machine for producing the results that the Government seeks, as opposed to an independent entity for critical thought, discourse, and reflection. Measuring ‘impact’ will bring an end to all research and teaching that can’t be justified easily in terms of simple economic, social or public benefit. Influential humanities scholar Bill Readings criticized in The University in Ruins such an exercise of ranking ‘excellence’ and quality by pointing out how questionable are most measures of this kind: ‘A number of things are obvious about this exercise, most immediately the arbitrary quality of the weighting of factors and the dubiousness of such quantitative indicators of quality’(Readings, 25).

In his ‘Review of Modern Foreign Languages Provision in Higher Education in England,’ Worton’s advice to Modern Languages Departments seems to be shaped and governed by this new policy of assessing ‘impact.’ The nature of the proposed changes for so-called ‘Languages Departments’ threaten the very essence of the disciplines as well as the process of learning a language in an academic context. Worton’s Review proposes a watered-down content based on the flat and all-encompassing notion of ‘cultural studies’.

The proposed ‘Modern Languages Review’ at UCL, made available internally to staff and students on Friday 5 February 2010, not only cites Worton’s HEFCE report but seems to mirror many of its concerns and preoccupations. It puts forth a heavy-handed administrative overhaul that will lead, short-term, to losses and downgrading of administrative posts, centralisation of the all language department’s administration, and long-term, if one can interpret its allusions to a largely unexplained ‘phase 2,’ to significant and worrying curricular changes. Consultation ends on the 12 March, barely five weeks after the documents were opened to discussion. We might want to consider how what Worton puts forth in his Modern Languages Review for HEFCE relates to what the committee on which he was a member now intends, which is through the UCL ‘Languages Review,’ to change the Departments of Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Latin American Studies, and Scandinavian Studies at UCL. So what are the items for concern?

Worton acknowledges in his HEFCE report that the concern that Modern Languages Departments will be disadvantaged when trying to prove their viability if the REF: ‘A number of respondents were also concerned about the difficulty of measuring “impact” in MFL research, as the Research Excellence Framework looms ahead’(Worton, par. 16).  This seems to relate particularly to how MFL has lost out in funding to the departments that are granted with the ‘STEMM’ provision (namely the sciences). Says Worton: ‘From a national point of view and the need to ensure the healthy development of the UK’s knowledge economy and society, there is clear justification for the protection of STEMM. The MFL community should therefore be working more pro-actively and more reactively to persuade Government that the study of and research into languages are just as important as for STEMM, and MFL colleagues within institutions need to persuade their own institutions of the importance of their work and of the consequent need for investment in them’(par. 100). Worton comments several times in his HEFCE report on the importance of MFL departments ‘coming together’ to prove themselves to the government, with ‘the development of a clear and compelling identity for Modern Foreign Languages in an increasingly competitive higher education context, one which presents a convincing case for the contribution that Languages Departments make to the strategic objectives of their institutions and more widely.’  His message is therefore that MFL Departments have to be ready to justify the importance of their research to the Government, in light of the REF. But how so?

I shall discuss his suggestions in terms of recurring themes: 
  • ‘Relevance’
  • careers and languages as an economic enabler
  • languages courses as accessible to all humanities degrees; MFL as a single or unified discipline
  • Language Centre/ Language Department collaboration
  • The creation of an identity that will persuade the Government of the importance of Modern Language Departments and their subject matter and teaching fields
Worton speaks in his HEFCE report of the importance of ‘relevance’ of modern language teaching: ‘The question of “relevance” remains another thorny issue for many languages colleagues, but in publicly funded universities, it is appropriate that the relevance and fitness for purpose of activities are scrutinised and re-evaluated on an ongoing basis and that attention is paid as to how curricula can respond to changing contexts, be these cultural, political, socio-economic or, indeed, educational. (par. 129)  While one might wish to ask the crucial question of why Languages Departments should have to prove their relevance, Worton seems more concerned with finding a means for them to do so. So how will Language department prove their relevance?

Top of the agenda is curriculum review, says Worton: ‘Departments should review their programmes and courses in terms of both content and modes of delivery in order to ensure that they are appropriate for the global 21st century’ (par. 210). The ‘modes of delivery’ to which he refers are developed through his suggestion that, for example,  ‘It would be good to see more use made of a greater variety of technologies and also of social networking tools in order to reinforce the message that languages are about communication and interconnectedness in the modern world (par. 138).  What’s more, Worton seems to think that teaching texts in the original may no longer be profitable, either intellectually or financially, for UK universities: ‘The issue of teaching literary and other texts in translation is a controversial one, but Language Departments should formulate explicit positions on this as they engage in reconceptualisations and redefinings of the place of Modern Foreign Languages in the university of the 21st century’ (par. 128). What particular Language Department course could be considered inappropriate for the 21st Century? The implications are disturbing, as this suggests that Language Departments and their field are redundant. 

This suggests that to become relevant and worthy in the University today, Language Department courses (such as literature, film, politics and history) must be accessible in translation to everyone who studies the humanities (or maybe even everyone who enters any university). Languages Departments will suddenly be transformed into something akin to what might fit under an amorphous notion of ‘cultural studies.’ Worton contends that ‘Interdisciplinary and interdepartmental collaboration over course delivery appears to be significantly on the rise, probably as a result of the many institutional restructurings, which have incorporated Language Departments in Schools of Languages or of Humanities’ (par. 132). Worton’s description of the changes in Humanities at the university level suggests that he is not bothered by the loss of courses specific to those studying ‘language’ in an academic Department that assumes strong linguistic skills in that foreign language. Instead, he seems to favour courses accessible to all: watered-down ‘contemporary cultural studies’ courses. Worton observes that ‘Programme content is changing, with a pronounced increase in contemporary cultural studies. Several Departments reported an increase in the number of courses which are accessible to non-linguists (e.g. texts in translation)’ (par. 14). What can we make of this observation? What about the periods before the contemporary? What about things that do not fit under the classification ‘cultural studies’? What kind of ‘cultural studies’ is Worton interested in? Does he refer to the discipline known as ‘Cultural Studies’ that was fostered in the UK in the 1960s, or does he mean an all inclusive, convenient hybrid, based on expediency and low costs and formed to encourage everyone to believe it can be delivered with the lowest cost and the greatest ‘impact’?

Worton’s report seems to stop at nothing short of an overhaul of the disciplines that make up Modern Foreign Language Departments in the UK.  He claims that ‘[reconceptualising MFL] would seem to be an important part both of making the case for languages as of national and institutional importance and of preparing for the REF.’ Furthermore, he does not stop there.  He criticizes the departments he is reviewing by claiming they have not looked to the future on their own: ‘[O]verall, there is a sense that Modern Foreign Language Departments tend to respond reactively, rather than innovative pro-actively’ (par. 14). What is his advice for acting pro-actively?  He thinks that Modern Languages Departments should ‘embrace that autonomy as a creative and enabling force. This includes the development of a clear and compelling identity for Modern Foreign Languages in an increasingly competitive higher education context, one which presents a convincing case for the contribution that Languages Departments make to the strategic objectives of their institutions and more widely’ (par. 21).  But what can such an identity mean? 

This will not be an identity related to the national or even multi-national Academic community of language speakers who have forged each of these disciplines that is today found in an Italian or German Department.  It will not be an identity based on shared cultures or histories.  As I have already suggested, the ‘identity’ Worton seems to embrace is one that compromises the values of the disciplines of Languages Departments.  It compromises the importance of teaching foreign languages in context and with specificity to their literatures, histories, and national boundaries. It compromises Foreign Languages as fields by restructuring departments and combining them to make group departments and broader, pick-and-mix degrees.  It compromises the teaching of Foreign Language Departments by stressing the impact that language teaching and research has directly on the economy rather than by embracing language as the discourse underlying the field of, for example, French literary studies, or Spanish and Latin American studies of history.

Worton places great emphasis on combining departments under the pretence that they share the same discipline: ‘A further complexity is raised by the fact that the individual language disciplines seek to define themselves individually, rather than as a single collective discipline. One element that links all of them is their inter-disciplinary nature, yet this very point of commonality raises questions to ‘outsiders’ about the specificity of each language discipline beyond that of the individual language in question. We therefore face the challenge of formulating broad, inclusive and yet also clearly delineated messages about “languages”’ (par. 33). The words ‘broad’ and ‘inclusive’ are key in this excerpt, as they are synonymous with the identity that Worton wishes languages to develop, as an all inclusive part of the Humanities, accessible to anyone, without the prerequisite of knowledge of the language. It furthermore pre-empts the cost cutting administrative centralisation that has been proposed in the Modern Languages Review for UCL’s Modern Languages departments. 

The importance of language learning is justified by Worton in the context of careers. It is also given importance in the scheme of the so-called ‘Language curriculum’: ‘Language Departments should liaise pro-actively with their institutional Careers Services and employers to ensure that skills development is an integral and important part of their programmes at all levels’ (par. 212). The fact that students with language degrees are frequently successful in the job market is used by Worton as an important reason to justify to the Government the funding of language teaching—but not necessarily the teaching of anything except the skills of language acquisition--in Universities. Research in the fields represented by Languages Departments is not, however given the same amount of importance by Worton, suggesting that he sees language teaching and learning only as a means to a purely economic end. What about all the other things Languages Departments do besides teaching people to read and write and speak in business meetings?  Is reading Proust or studying the debates about immigration in France less valuable than learning the subjunctive? Can one hope to achieve business success without the cultural insight that comes from understanding the history of Spanish colonialism or grasping the human rights envisioned for the first time during the French Revolution?  What kind of research should the UK fund in the university? Only the kind that matters in instrumental ways? Is it really so costly to promote disciplines that have existed for decades and that contribute to an understanding of literature, history, society, and values?

Not surprisingly, given his emphases on language training as priorities, Worton is positive about the future of ‘Language Centres’, which exist, usually, as extension programs outside the regular university curriculum, largely for practical language learning.  Unlike Languages Departments which introduce students to the academic discipline of Spanish or Scandinavian Studies while introducing them to the studies of that language, Language Centres teach people who need or want to learn language skills for specific purposes—travel, business, pleasure, as an elective module, etc. Worton encourages more collaboration between Language Centres and Language Departments, criticising the latter for using teachers who lack teaching qualifications while ‘Language Centre teachers are usually properly trained specialist language teachers’ (par. 162). Language Department teachers have different needs: their programme is designed to complement a degree programme, with language skills that further academic discussion and debate. Language Centres, however, are made to fit many different needs, from Evening Classes to practical French for business. Worton’s negative views about Language Department teaching is disturbing because of the implications that his views have on the future of Language Departments at University level, and his failure to acknowledge the very different purpose they serve as opposed to that of Language Centres. It also bares a stark contrast with his positivity about Language Centres, about which he reports a ‘considerable optimism’(par. 158).

Worton’s HEFCE Review ultimately suggests a bleak future for Language Departments by threatening the very principles upon which they are founded. The fact that Language Departments will have to prove the ‘impact’ of their research for the REF means that Modern Languages Departments will be allowed to continue to exist only when they adhere to misguided Government criteria. Such an agenda makes too easy a watering down of fields in the easily bottled potions of ‘cultural studies’ and the elimination of foreign language requirements within Languages Departments.  It permits restructuring that risks depriving scholars of their professional identities and endangers students by forcibly corrupting the legacy of those fields, departments, degree programmes, and identities.  It is ironic that Worton refers to the ‘autonomy’ of these departments and its ‘creative and enabling force’ because, if the recommendations of the HEFCE Review in Modern Foreign Languages are realised, autonomy, creativity, and force are precisely what will be lost.

Works cited:

Stefan Collini, “Impact on humanities” The Times Literary Supplement, 13/11/2009, consulted online at date consulted 8/2/10

Bill Reading, The University in Ruins, Havard University Press, 1997 (second printing)
 “The Research Excellence Framework: A brief guide to the proposals” consulted online at the Higher Education Funding Council for England website at  on 8/2/10

Michael Worton, “Foreign Languages provision in higher education in England” consulted online at the Higher Education Funding for England website at on 8/2/10

Sunday, 7 February 2010

New Documents Online

The Modern Languages Review Committee has put up its latest documents HERE. That's the two links at the top of the page. You'll need your UCL username and password to access them. Oh, and here's something else you'll need:

Analysis to follow...

The Story So Far

UCL has, for the last decade, ridden the knife-edge of its £103million endowment. Despite this year receiving more research funds than either Oxford or Cambridge, it simply hasn’t kept a surplus. Although £100million has been raised from Alumni, this has been ringfenced for infrastructure, debt management and 'affording cuts'. Where the LSE has been able to call on its £43million reserves to guarantee and indeed increase teaching and research until 2015, UCL has little in the way of resources – indeed, it is hoping to ‘save’ £20million this year alone. Trade unions at UCL estimate that this could involve between 200-400 staff redundancies. Already 10 members of staff in Information systems have been faced with losing their jobs (thankfully, this has been reduced to 1 after Union action). Strike action in the near future is a distinct possibility. With HEFCE’s government-mandated STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine and Mathematics) programme already guaranteeing premature protection for costly physical sciences departments, the Humanities were always going to be one of the first under the knife.

So in March 2009, hot on the heels of the Research Assessment Exercise findings for 2008/09, the Modern Languages Review Committee for UCL was launched. With the ostensible aim of helping UCL’s MFL departments improve their research (see: research ratings), the panel - headed by a Provost-appointed Physicist among other moonlighters - set to work. In June that year, they published a baffling report which said little or nothing about improving Modern Languages research.* What it did suggest was a brutal restructuring of departments into a centralised block, including a sea change in curriculum and numerous redundancies. Opposition was fierce, meetings held and finally a two month pre-consultation held – over the summer holiday, when no students were available to voice their concerns. The final report was scheduled to appear in October. It failed to do so. The consultation proper was put off until a later date.

Meanwhile, Vice-Provost (and committee member) Michael Worton published a report for HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England), a ‘Review of Modern Foreign Languages provision in higher education in England’. The document criticised what he saw as the lack of marketable ‘interdisciplinary’ work by language departments and lauded those HE institutions providing languages as a ‘supplementary skill’. While the report attacked the apparently ‘reactive’ rather than ‘pro-active’ innovation of language departments, Professor Worton concluded the report by proposing, apparently without irony, a series of ‘reactive’ measures – to titanic governmental failure in Secondary school language teaching, and to a perceived inability of students and investors to comprehend HE language departments without packaging them into an amorphous lump.

After months of silence, the official Modern Languages Review Committee consultation began in early February. Basing it on new and entirely different documents from the original pre-consultation, and well aware of the presence of a lot of angry students, the Committee has launched a rapid-fire sequence of (largely closed) meetings, releasing relevant documentation at short notice and under password protection. The apparent aim now is a restructuring and rebranding of MFL at UCL in line with elements of the Vice-Provost’s report. It seeks to homogenise Modern Languages into a single ‘Division', one that is lean on administration and heavy on so-called ‘interdisciplinary’ courses. It will be smaller, offer less, and cost as little as possible. It will be composed of 50% postgraduates, paying top-dollar and presumably each adopting the ‘orphan centuries’ bawled about by Worton in his the HEFCE report. It will also be centralised – no specific language will be granted its own curriculum agenda, and unique departmental support offered for students on years abroad will be the responsibility of decreased administration numbers and ever-busier academics, who will themselves be appointed from an unspecified point higher up the stack.

Phase one of the consultation is on its way to completion, and the facts are beginning to trickle out. Crucially we hear that, in the name of ‘avoiding duplication’, each former department is to be maintained by one 'departmental secretary' of a lower grade. They will in turn be supported by 6 separate ‘general administrators’ in another building entirely, dealing with admissions, finance and years abroad. As we have yet to be told who these will be or where the current administrators will fit in, this will probably mean up to five redundancies.

Phase two still remains, largely, a mystery. We are told that it will involve the announcement of course cuts ('as soon as possible'), course mergers and changes in the academic structure. Big Stuff. But we’re still waiting on the documents and will be seeing through a glass darkly until then.

Delays from Dean Woudhuysen in releasing consultation details and the exclusion of all but student representatives from these meetings have caused a whirlwind of anxiety among students and staff, all of whom are struggling to interpret the convoluted jargon and unreassuring platitudes of official documentation, knowing that somewhere in between the 'envelope pushing' and 'blue sky thinking' could be the end of their course or a redundancy notice. The speed at which the entire process is being executed means that the scope for consultation is likely to be extremely limited. However, if seized, it is a chance for students to have a powerful voice where they were denied one before.

In Universities across the country, departments are being cut and bullied, academics forced to reapply and students left out in the cold. If you share our opposition to redundancies and homogenising in the Modern Language departments then stick with us - we promise to be here with regular updates, news and analysis. Follow us on Twitter or join the Facebook group to find out how you can get involved.

* This is perhaps unsurprising, as the committee members’ backgrounds were, to put it as one student did at the time, ‘About as relevant to the field as the Académie Française is to Quantum Theory.’