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Stuart, Ecoute nous - listen to us

Stuart McCutcheon’s team has spent today telling people working in the University of Auckland’s School of Cultures, Languages and Linguistics that they may no longer have a job. McCutcheon’s decision to axe 5.5 full-time equivalent jobs, equal to 30 per cent of those working in European languages, suggests he does not see a strong role for the University of Auckland in making sure New Zealand can take advantage of the huge opportunity and potential that comes from being a country with an ever-increasing number of diverse cultures and language speakers.

In July, alongside cuts to the Faculty of Education and Social Work, McCutcheon announced his intention to cut back the Faculty of Arts by nearly 6 full-time equivalent staff, with the axe falling incisively on European Languages within the School of Cultures, Languages and Linguistics. Today, those whose job has been sitting precariously under McCutcheon’s axe for the last few months found out whether or not it will fall on their role. Those set to lose their jobs now have four weeks to provide feedback on the decision.

McCutcheon has used narrow performance metrics to justify the cuts, seemingly giving little consideration to the huge contribution the study of languages and cultures make to life in Aotearoa New Zealand. For a modern, outward looking country like New Zealand, languages are an essential skill, enabling individuals not only to succeed, but to participate and engage constructively in political, social, cultural, and economic life. Languages are not exclusively about communication, they are imbued with ideologies, culture, history and symbols. From celebrating the enormous contribution Pasifika languages have made to life in New Zealand, through to welcoming migrants from all around the world, languages have shaped our modern lives.

Nanette Cormack, Deputy Secretary of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU), said: “Learning a language is about so much more than being able to put our own words into a different written and oral code. It means being able benefit from the huge socio-cultural, as well as on the economic, potential that infuses every language. It is simply not good enough to cut jobs based on whether or not the School has met narrow performance metrics. Understanding and advancing the role of language and culture in society requires a much more mature, nuanced approach. The future of language study and research is far too complex to be reduced to a set of market-based metrics that can be bent to Stuart McCutcheon’s will, rather than towards meeting our needs as a nation.

“Decisions like those made by Stuart McCutcheon today always make think about the people affected and their families. We will be doing everything we can as a union to support those affected through the difficult weeks and months ahead. But the decision also provides further proof that the narrow performance metrics of the past are broken. Vice-Chancellors everywhere must now accept this and start working with us to reform the sector. That way we can ensure the universities they run are making the best possible contribution to ensuring we can take advantage of the huge benefits learning subjects like a foreign language bring to us all.”


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