‘A glorified Duolingo’: Languages students’ anger over changes which could ‘de-value’ degree

Their petition has already got more than 5,000 signatures

A University of Sheffield student has launched a petition against proposed changes to the School of Languages and Cultures which would see the course turn into a “glorified Duolingo”.

Darcey Taylor’s petition is already on more than 5,000 signatures after students studying in the school were informed on April 30th their studies could move to the Modern Languages Teaching Centre, where non-specialist language courses are taught.

Currently, members of the public and students alike can take conversational language courses at the centre alongside their studies.

Third year German and Linguistics student, Warren Valdez, says the anger is because of the huge disparity in prices for students and members of the public receiving the same classes. For students, fees will remain at £9,250 – whilst members of the public could attend two semesters of MTLC classes for just £440.

Warren Valdez

The proposal put forward last Friday could mean class sizes are doubled and contact hours changed. Language proficiency could also be lowered, potentially to an A-level standard for lesser spoken languages such as Czech.

The changes would mean the School of Languages and Cultures provides the least proficient language courses of all Russell Group universities.

The Student Staff Committee has called the move a “despecialisation” of language courses, as all specialist skills such as grammar, translation, speaking, debate and cultural classes would be axed as the MTLC focuses its teaching primarily on conversational language.

The Student Staff Committee said the changes, which would affect current first and second years, constitute “gross misconduct” as a violation of students’ consumer rights which say the university cannot make “sweeping changes to significant aspects of the course”.

Yesterday, in a meeting about the proposed changes, the Vice President for Arts and Humanities said these guidelines were taken into account before the proposals were put forward, but many students and staff members maintain Competition and Markets Authority guidelines would still be violated.

The University of Sheffield said the proposed changes “will allow the students to maximise their potential and level of achievement” and learning outcomes will not change.

However, many members of staff said this is not the case and have worked to stop the proposals for months.

In a statement from the Student Staff Committee, co-chairs Stephen Gamage and Matthew Hartill said communication has been “extremely poor” given the “monumental impact” the changes would have for current students.

The Working Group held a meeting with staff and students on May 5th, where staff voiced their objections and asked for the changes to be paused. Despite this, Paul O’Neill said the group seemed “determined” to push ahead with the proposed changes.

Second year BA Modern Languages student, Amelia Wood, said the changes are “disheartening for the future of languages degrees and further global communication”, following in a trend of languages A-levels and GSCE options being cut back.

Third year German and Linguistics Student, Warren Valdez, shares this view and said many students plan to drop out or transfer to other universities. “This is making me reconsider doing a Master’s at Sheffield. These changes have done nothing but cloud people’s opinion of the university”.

Amelia Wood

Stephen Gamage and Matthew Hartill, co-chairs of the student-staff committee, said: “The university appears to pride itself on its ‘global’ reputation. It’s time they put their money where their mouth is”.

The committee said they have taken steps to ensure students are represented going forward but for now, if you would like to sign the petition click here.

A spokesperson from the University of Sheffield said: “Sheffield is committed to delivering the high-quality language courses our students have come to expect; and so the University has been consulting with staff on proposed changes that will help protect the sustainability of our languages provision, and strengthen our offer for our students in the current challenging external environment.”

The university also told The Star that said students will continue to receive an excellent learning experience as the proposed changes will allow the students to maximise their potential and level of achievement, saying their contact hours will not be reduced.

The faculty is currently working with the Students’ Union and the Trades Unions on site to ensure the transparency of the process.