Ulster University forced to close modern languages school following 'brutal' funding cuts

Students' Union president says Northern Ireland Executive has 'failed a generation of young people' as other subjects look set to be affected

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The Independent Online

Ulster University has confirmed it will close its School of Modern Languages in Coleraine and will also look at other cuts across the board due to a loss of funding.

The move at the Northern Irish institution has come after the Department of Employment and Learning made financial cuts of £8.6m.

In June this year, the university had confirmed how 1,250 student places and approximately 210 staff posts would be lost as a result of the Northern Ireland (NI) Executive budget cuts to higher education, forcing the university to determine where and how the cuts will impact.

As well as axing languages, the university said it has also identified six subject areas for “course rationalisation” including interior design, marine science, computing, and business management.

Of these, only interior design and modern languages will close in their entirety.

Vice-chancellor Paddy Nixon described how the move has not been an easy process – particularly for affected staff – and said the NI Executive budget cuts will have far-reaching consequences for young people and the local economy.

Highlighting how course closures were always inevitable, he said: “We cannot absorb further cuts so now, more than ever, we must be decisive.”

Trying to reassure how not all of the cuts will result in closure, he added: “Some of these subjects will transfer between campuses, consolidating provision and enhancing student opportunity.

“In making these decisions, a number of factors have been taken into consideration, including student demand, attrition rates, student satisfaction, employment statistics and research performance.”

Despite the effects the closure have on staff, Mr Nixon looked to the future and said it was an opportunity for the university to reinforce its position as it looked to grow.

Ulster University Students’ Union (UUSU), however, took a less positive view and described how it is “deeply distressed” by the “devastating cuts,” accusing the NI Executive of failing to prioritise higher education, for which the university is now having to make sacrifices.

UUSU president, Colum Mackey, said the Executive had failed a generation of young people and added: “A failure to invest in higher education is a failure to investment in our economy, in our healthcare system, in society, and in individuals.”

The trade union Unite also condemned the NI Executive budget for forcing “brutal cuts” on the higher education sector, which could see almost 200 jobs go at the university.

The union’s Sean Smyth described how the short-sightedness of Stormont policies is exemplified by closure in Coleraine, and added: “It isn’t that long ago since we lost the German Department in Queens University. How can Northern Ireland develop an outward-looking economy without an adequate supply of people able to communicate in modern languages like Chinese and German?”