Archive for April, 2009


Linguistics courses axed

Students and staff are campaigning to save the discipline

Students and staff are campaigning to save the discipline

In a decision that was made public to staff and students in week 10 of the spring term, management withdrew the undergraduate Linguistics programme at Sussex. This is despite the fact that this programme:

  • Is ranked 2nd in country in the Independent’s Good University guide, with an overall score of 99.1 (and ranked 8th in the Times)
  • Has some of the best students at Sussex in terms of entry tariffs (current A-level requirement AAB-ABB),
  • Is in high demand, with one of the strongest applications-to-admissions ratios at Sussex (currently there is only about one place for every nine applicants)
  • Has the highest graduate placement and employment rate of all linguistics programmes in the UK (75% six months after completing the degree)
  • Contributes courses to many interdisciplinary programmes in humanities, education and sciences

This decision was taken with no consultation with students or staff and bypassed the University’s own procedures. There was no discussion within the English department, and the withdrawal has not yet been approved by the School of Humanities Teaching and Learning Committee. Formally, the withdrawal has therefore not been ratified. Nevertheless, since admissions for 2009 are already being withdrawn, the proposal is rendered a fait accompli.

While current linguistics cohorts (72 students) will be taught out to completion of their degrees, the admission of new students for 2009 has already been stopped, and their offers have been withdrawn or changed into English Language offers. All teaching in Linguistics will therefore cease in 2011.

The decision to withdraw Linguistics follows less than two years after the old department of Linguistics and English Language was merged with English, a move which was then justified as a move to ensure sustainability of the programmes. In previous years, the number of permanent research staff had already been reduced from 7 to 3, putting the subject in a precarious situation.

This pummelling of Linguistics has reverberations and consequences that will long echo at Sussex. The move is indicative of an increasingly top-down management process, which other departments and subjects may also be affected by in the future.


Why Linguistics matters

To ease the outrage of the cutting of Linguistics, university management has assured the cuts are part of a “longer-term strategy to make a sustainable future for English Language teaching and research”. But Linguistics is not English Language. A sustainable future for English does not have to come at the expense of Linguistics.

Linguistics is the study of languages. It is crucial to industries such as voice-recognition and translation software. Linguistics underpins speech therapy, used to treat mental pathologies and disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, autism and aphasias, and informs education strategies for children with learning disabilities like dyslexia, dysphasia and dysgraphia. To understand the themes uniting human thought and civilization, we must understand the nature of human communication.

Linguistics has a pivotal role in the future of the arts and the sciences. Its research supports subjects like the philosophy of mind, and of language, artificial intelligence, robotics, neuroscience, psychology, the social sciences, anthropology, history, archaeology, evolutionary biology and behavioural genetics, second language teaching and literature.

The structure of interdisciplinarity, one of Sussex University’s watchwords and unique selling points, is the complementary discourse between departments. Students take courses from outside their degree programme, and researchers share their work in research groups. With Linguistics closed, students from English, Education, Philosophy, Psychology, Neuroscience, Informatics, Languages and other courses will no longer have the access to Linguistics courses they do now, so the learning of future Sussex students will be damaged.

Despite the management talk about a “sustainable future”, the reality is that expertise will be lost. Staff will go, and those who stay will have to adapt their research to the agenda of the English Language department. Whole areas of work and knowledge will cease to exist at Sussex.

In a unilateral decision made without consultation, university management have committed our university to a future of impoverished academic diversity. Sussex’s reputation for interdisciplinarity is to be eroded, and staff and students in all fields will no longer benefit from the widespread applications of Linguistics.


This is the blog for the campaign to save Linguistics courses at the University of Sussex.

RSS Linguistics coverage in The Badger, the student newspaper

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