Sunderland University to drop modern foreign languages, history and politics

The university said the decision to “re-orientate” would affect 34 academic staff

The University of Sunderland is to close several departments and cease teaching modern foreign languages (MFL), history and politics.

In a statement released online, the university said the decision to “re-orientate” would affect 34 academic staff. The move is in response to dwindling student applications.

Sunderland’s board of governors backed the three departmental closures after the university’s vice-chancellor, Sir David Bell, said the move was critical for the institution’s “future educational and financial sustainability”.

The university described its revised educational offering as a “career-focussed curriculum”.

The board of governors agreed that [the axed courses] do not fit with the curriculum principles of being career-focused and professions-facing
– John Mowbray, University of Sunderland

Chair of the HEI’s board of governors John Mowbray said: While recognising the value of the subjects the university is withdrawing from, the board of governors agreed that they do not fit with the curriculum principles of being career-focused and professions-facing.

“Nor are they of a size and scale to be educationally viable in the medium to long term, given the competition from other institutions, both regionally and nationally.”

Read more: Modern languages: seven more universities drop degrees

Sunderland, the former polytechnic which gained university status in 1992, will focus on its provision in the realms of health, education, business, engineering, computer science, the arts and creative industries – courses earmarked by the vice-chancellor as “areas of key strength and growth”.

After investing in new facilities for these subject areas, “the university has benefitted from increased student numbers and an improving financial position through careful and prudent financial management,” Sir David said in his statement.

“We are well-positioned to achieve further growth – and therefore future educational and financial sustainability – in those subject areas with the greatest potential for expansion. In particular, this newly confirmed approach will focus on the potential for technology and business-related programmes to increase substantially in size, alongside the already planned growth in health and other areas,” Sir David added.

The governors also agreed that undergraduate degrees in public health would be withdrawn because of concerns around the relevance of the course, particularly in relation to the recruitment needs of regional NHS partners.

The institution’s new rules will mean postgraduate courses will be required to recruit at least 15 students. No mention was given of minimum recruitment targets for undergraduate courses.

According to the statement, the university recruited just 14 history undergraduates at the start of the academic year, and just 15 on combined politics and history courses. The MFL department recruited no students at either undergraduate or postgraduate level for the 2019/2020 academic year.

Sir David said the university would prioritise student and staff welfare during the closures.

“I can assure the whole university community that the withdrawal of subjects will be handled properly and with care. Formal consultation with the affected staff will begin soon. Our students will be looked after in a way that is consistent with the student protection plan that was agreed by the Office for Students,” he said.

University Business has approached Sunderland and the Office for Students for more information on how the departmental closures will be handled.

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