Dear Professor Gregson,
I am writing to you on behalf of the subject association for German Studies in Great Britain and Ireland, the AGS.
It is with considerable dismay that I learn of your decision to cease provision of German at QUB and I would urge you to reconsider it. I note in your institution’s ‘Education Strategy’, freely available on the Web, your commendable commitment to a curriculum which “is challenging and inspirational, equipping students for life in a global society and work in a global economy.” How very strange, therefore, that you can now envisage such a curriculum in which the language of the UK’s most important trading partner and one of the world’s economic powerhouses has no place. Are future generations of students in Northern Ireland to be denied the accessibility to international job markets which being a languages graduate affords?
I would also like to draw your attention to the ramifications of your decision for other subject areas. Thus in removing German, your are removing that component from joint degree combinations, with parlous consequences for their longer term viability, in particular for French. Similarly, as the school curricula in Northern Ireland are very responsive to perceptions of the priorities of your institution, there will be an inevitable collateral impact on German provision in the secondary sector. The interplay between both these factors will only serve to exacerbate the predicament highlighted by the British Academy in its recent report, “Language Matters”, namely that the very capacity of the UK’s research base is being seriously compromised by a deficit of language competence.
I would like to make you aware that the decision to withdraw from German as an area of research is one that is rather perplexing to my subject community. In particular, having only recently invested in new posts after considerable prevarication, Queen’s appears to have performed a precipitate ‘U-turn’ in policy. We all know that there can be a disproportionately negative impact on very small units of a lack of clarity of institutional strategy, manifest in delays in investment during the RAE cycle. This can be all the more damaging if it is followed by an expectation of instant results and a reversal of direction when those results fail to materialise in the first instance.
Research needs the seeds to germinate and flower if it is to ‘grow’ and bear fruit, and I should have thought that recent grant capture by colleagues in German, not least a prestigious and highly competitive AHRC/DFG award for a three-year international collaborative research project, ought to be a reassuring indication of a brighter future.
On behalf of some 300 members of my association I urge you respectfully to reconsider your decision and to await the report of the current HEFCE enquiry into the health of modern languages in the UK.
Professor Frank Finlay, President, Association for German Studies in Great Britain and Ireland