University of Hull faces new strike threat

Possible closure of modern language courses, and recent compulsory redundancy of union leader, trigger strike ballot for UCU members

The University of Hull is facing a fresh strike threat over the potential closure of its modern languages department and the compulsory redundancy of a union leader.

Over 450 staff who are members of the University and College Union (UCU) are today (18 June) being asked to take industrial action in a ballot that closes on Friday 9 July 2021.

The University of Hull began discussing the possibility of suspending its modern languages department in 2018. It confirmed in March 2021 that it would do so, and is not currently accepting applications for its BA (Hons) Chinese Studies and BA (Hons) Applied Modern Languages or MA Translation Studies degrees for 2021, or offering research-based postgraduate provision in modern languages.

The UCU says the provider also wants to replace in-person short language courses with an online language learning platform.

UCU says these changes would mean the language department would cease to exist from October 2023 and 11 staff would be made redundant.

The proposed industrial action would also be a protest against the compulsory redundancy, in February 2021, of UCU branch president, Keith Butler.

“Hull University’s claims to have an international outlook are beyond laughable whilst it plans to close an entire modern languages department, replacing some courses with an online app anyone can download to their phones for ten pounds,” said UCU regional official Julie Kelley.

“As it stands, degrees in Chinese, French, Russian, German, Italian, Spanish, translation studies and English language will all go, as will the expert lecturers that deliver them. It is a brazen act of vandalism that staff are determined to prevent.

“Hull’s leadership must also reinstate the UCU branch president Keith Butler who was sacked after 22 years working for the university.

“UCU will not allow the university to trash its modern languages department, damage student choice, or sack hard working staff. University management need to reread their own corporate strategy, and halt these vicious cuts. If they do not, we will continue balloting for strike action.”

There has been a steady decline in uptake of languages at higher education institutions. A report by the University Council of Modern Languages (UCML) found the number offering languages as a degree subject fell from 69 to 62 in 2019.

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