Archive for May, 2009


Why is our university cutting Linguistics?

By Tom Wills

It’s easy to see why the university has been criticised for attempting to axe Linguistics. Many people view the decision as a serious error of judgment on the part of university managers. The discipline is one of the most over-subscribed at Sussex; the Independent newspaper ranked it the number two linguistics course in the country. The world-famous linguist Noam Chomsky commented “If the decision is implemented, it will be a serious blow to the intellectual life of the university.”

But this decision was no mistake. In fact it is part of a deliberate and highly destructive strategy for our institution which, if left unchallenged, will mean more course cuts and decline in the university’s reputation for years to come. It’s not just for the sake of future students that we should be concerned: many of the disciplines under threat, like Linguistics, are undertaking vital research that is needed to solve the challenges of the 21st century – treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, for example. And on a purely individualistic level, the name of Sussex University is going to be a permanent fixture on all our CVs. Its reputation will reflect on us for the rest of our lives.

Management defend their strategy in terms of the ‘sustainability’ of the university. They point out that the future of government funding for universities is increasingly uncertain. Instead, they say, we will have to attract funding from corporations – and that will mean adjusting our priorities accordingly. But universities exist as a public service funded by taxpayers precisely because they carry out work which the corporations will not fund. Increasing the general level of education of the population and furthering the collective knowledge of society are not activities that translate into profit for private enterprise.

At the behest of the government, our university is increasingly being run according to the logic of privatisation – meaning Linguistics is too small and not sufficiently marketable to be retained. The quality of the research and teaching in Linguistics does not figure in the university’s decision. It is a move which we can expect to see repeated with other disciplines which have been marginalised by university management – American Studies and Music to name but two.

Even if we are not studying one of the disciplines directly affected by this threat, the cumulative impact will be the loss of the intellectual diversity which allows for the incubation of new ways of thinking and makes universities what they are. Repeated across the country, this trend represents an existential threat to higher education as a whole. The lecturers’ union UCU has reported that no less than 100 universities are currently facing cutbacks. London Met University is in the most severe situation, where managers are trying to cut 550 jobs. The union warns that if the cuts go ahead “it could be the death-blow for the University.”

UCU is organising a protest for jobs and education in London on May 23. It will march from London Met to City University, which is facing 100 job losses as a result of a cut in government funding for people returning to education to retrain. This will be a significant demonstration, because it will draw together anti-cuts campaigns from different places. By joining forces with other campaigns, we will have the best chance of success because the problems we face are one and the same.

If university managers really cared about the sustainability of our institution in any meaningful sense, they would be up in arms about New Labour’s creeping privatisation of higher education. Instead they opt to toe the line. As a result it falls to us to hold university management – and the government – to account.

This article originally appeared in student magazine The Pulse.


Final year students: we need your help

Most final year students have taken part in the National Student Survey during the last few months. The Save Linguistics campaign is asking all final year students to withdraw their responses from this survey in protest at the decision to close Linguistics courses at Sussex.

University management made the decision to close Linguistics without consulting students or staff or going through any of the proper democratic procedures. They have refused to listen to the thousands of people who have signed our petition demanding the reinstatement of Linguistics, not to mention prominent voices from the community, including local MPs and the world famous linguist Noam Chomsky. We therefore feel the feedback we gave in good faith as part of the National Student Survey is no longer accurate.

The National Student Survey is run by the market research company IPSOS Mori, and we are entitled under the terms and conditions of the survey to opt out at any time. It takes just a few clicks – you can do it online at At no point will your identity be shared with the university.

The survey results are used in league tables, which matter a great deal to university managers. The university must get a 50% response rate to get its results published. If 396 students withdraw their responses, this will push Sussex below the 50% response rate needed.

The Save Linguistics campaign will publish the number of students withdrawing their feedback each day. The decision to close Linguistics has already tarnished the univeristy’s reputation – not least when it called up prospective Linguistics students days before an Open Day to tell them their course had been cancelled. We are hopeful that university management will come to their senses and announce the reinstatement of Linguistics to avoid falling below 50% and further damaging the reputation of the university.

Final year students can opt out of the National Student Survey at


Campaign building momentum

The Save Linguistics campaign has been building since the day we found out about the closure last term. Our Facebook group quickly attracted thousands of members and signatures on the online petition. On the last day of term we held a well attended demonstration in Library Square where staff, students and members of USSU spoke about the effects of closing the Linguistics department, and the reasons we need to fight to keep it.

During the Easter break we held another successful demonstration outside Bramber House as University Court met – a committee comprising of MPs, academics and industry professionals. Through this demonstration and the lobbying of committee members prior to the event, we were able to raise awareness of the issues around the Linguistics closure. As a result, several committee members raised questions about Linguistics during the meeting, and the pressure upon the Vice Chancellor began to build.

Since these initial demonstrations we have had significant coverage in the Badger, as well as The Argus, The Independent and The Times Higher Education.

The most recent demonstration took place on Friday May 1st, when a large group of students gathered in Library Square. We marched to Sussex House to directly grab the attention of the Vice Chancellor and Pro-Vice Chancellor who are responsible for the Linguistics closure. They refused to come down and acknowledge the crowd, but the presence of security guards preventing access to the building made it clear that Senior Management are feeling the pressure of our anger over the cuts.


Universities cutting courses nationwide

As the campaign to save Linguistics at Sussex picks up pace, it is important that we take time to examine a wider picture, in which students and staff are facing cuts and closures in Higher Education throughout the country. Far from being an isolated incident, the closure of the Linguistics course is part of a national trend, where university managements pleading poverty have claimed that cuts will have to be made in order to ‘balance the books’. This has led to courses considered ‘non profitable’ being axed and the failure of Vice Chancellors to meet the pay demands of unions such as UCU (the lecturers’ union) despite finding the cash for their own hefty wage increases. Department closures and service cuts have already been announced at Liverpool, Bangor and Reading universities as well as hundreds of redundancies at London Metropolitan and Gloucestershire.

But students and staff are asking, ‘Where has all the money gone?’ If the VC can add 9% to his already large salary, why can ordinary lecturers not have 8%? Students and staff at Sussex and elsewhere are beginning to organise a fight back, and are sending a message to university managements and the New Labour government that workers and young people must not be forced to pay for this crisis of capitalism. At London Met student campaigners, UCU and local trade unions have called a march for jobs and education on 23rd May and large demonstrations have already taken place at Liverpool University. Bangor University students have forced their VC to agree to publicly debate proposed £5 million cuts and students are planning further action. Cut backs to Further Education in Wales have also been fought with student and trade union protests, forcing the Welsh Assembly to increase funding.

UCU is also balloting its members for strike action to combat job losses and demand decent wage increases. The National Union of Students (NUS) has disgracefully refused to support such action with the NUS president stating “Given the effects of the current economic climate on the graduate jobs market, students need industrial action by university staff like a hole in the head”. Of course students will have concerns over how such action might affect them over exam time, however, unless unions take action now, students will be sitting exams for courses which will no longer exist in a few months time.

The need for a national campaign of students and education workers calling for an end to cuts, closures, privatisation and demanding free education has never been greater. With an NUS leadership which is now little more than a tool of New Labour, allowing the government to carry out attacks on the conditions of students and workers, it is up to ordinary students to build campaigns on our own campuses and to build links with students and workers across Britain fighting for better education for all.


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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