Furious students accuse University of Sheffield of ‘gross misconduct’ over course change

Students from a Sheffield university have launched an online petition to protest proposed changes to their course, especially after a year of uncertainty due to a pandemic.

By Rahmah Ghazali
Thursday, 6th May 2021, 11:19 am

The controversial changes to the University of Sheffield language teaching have been proposed by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, meaning it would move language teaching to the Modern Languages Teaching Centre.

The centre is where non-specialist language courses are taught from outside of the School of Languages and Cultures that could see students who have chosen to study language as a specialist subject study alongside members of the public.

According to the petition that was launched by student Darcey Taylor and addressed to University of Sheffield Faculty of Arts and Humanities Vice President, students will have either fewer and/or different types of contact hours while still pay a full amount of tuition fees under the new proposals.

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University of Sheffield Students Union

Meanwhile, for beginner students, the amount of teaching they will get will drop by between a quarter and a half, while classes sizes will - in some cases - double.

The petition read: "The plan did not originate from members of the School of Languages and Cultures, did not have substantial input from Modern Languages specialists, and is not supported by the vast majority of staff in the School of Languages and Cultures.

"Students were also not consulted...we believe this constitutes gross misconduct as they are charging the degree to something we haven't signed up for.

"Under Consumer Law, our rights state that a university cannot make 'sweeping changes to significant aspects of our course (such as content, structure or location)."

"This simply shows that the University aren't willing to put their students first and aren't thinking about our futures, only about profit.

"This has caused distress to all students as we feel like we can no longer complete our studies at the University of Sheffield to the level we should and feel that our degree will become meaningless with these changes.

“We call for the Faculty to pause the process to engage in proper communications with the School of Modern Languages and Cultures”

Third year French and Spanish student Jack Ingham, who backed the petition said the proposals will have a "profoundly detrimental effect on the learning opportunities and academic outcomes for current and prospective students,

He added: "Moreover, they represent a blatant disregard for a number of foundational university policies: key aspects of the university’s Code of Ethics, vision statement and Mental Health at Work Commitment have been completely overlooked as these proposals have been conceived.

“True to form, the brilliant staff and students in the School of Languages and Cultures (SLC) have stood united against these changes, in an effort to preserve the diversity of academic interests and expertise that our department is proud to possess.”

Ellie Hollis, a second year student studying (Dual Honours) Linguistics with Spanish and Portuguese, who is also a member of the Student Action Group said they were excluded from any consultation with the university.

She said: “The Working Group has excluded both staff and students from the School of Languages and Cultures in the formulation of this proposal.

"As a result, we are incredibly concerned about the future of our degrees and also the staff who work tirelessly to deliver the outstanding programme we signed up for.

"After a year of such uncertainty and change due to the pandemic, it feels incredibly insulting that the Working Group would propose to make huge changes to our degree programme halfway through, not to mention waiting until the beginning of our exam season to inform us of this.”

The School of Languages and Cultures Student-Staff Committee co-chairs Stephen Gamage and Matthew Hartill said the proposals "constitute an outright de-specialisation of languages provision.

"These changes would have a monumental impact on the way languages are taught at Sheffield into the future, and would affect students who are already studying here.

"For the principal student representative body, the Student-Staff Committee, not to have any communication with the Faculty on this issue until only very recently is unacceptable. The University appears to pride itself on its ‘global’ reputation. It’s time they put their money where their mouth is.

"As the Student-Staff Committee, we have actively taken, and are continuing to take, steps to ensure students are represented going forward.

"These include an email to all undergraduates outlining the changes in detail, a meeting with the Head of Faculty, continued discussions with staff and students, communications with the press, and an open Student's Union meeting this week, where students will have the opportunity to discuss concerns in an open and frank manner.

The online petition has almost reached its target of 5,000 signatures as of Thursday (May 6).

In response, 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 assured that the 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.

Their contact hours will also not be reduced and the learning outcomes for their degrees will not change.

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